O’Neill expects Keane and Arter to resolve their differences
Ward’s version of controversial fallout adds to pressure on Republic of Ireland manager
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane with Richard Keogh during training ahead of the friendly against Poland on Tuesday. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Poland v Republic of Ireland: Stadion Miejski, Wroclaw. Kick-off 7.45. (On TV: Live on Sky Sports Mix)
Martin O’Neill says he expects Roy Keane and Harry Arter to resolve their differences between now and next month, something that is likely to pave the way for the Cardiff City midfielder to return to the squad for the Nations League games against Denmark and Wales in Dublin.
The former Manchester United star’s relationship with Stephen Ward may, however, take a little longer to repair.
The Republic of Ireland manager broke the news of the impending rapprochement at a remarkable pre-match match press conference which was completely dominated by questions, and answers, about a piece of audio taken from WhatsApp and posted online.
In it Ward provides an unidentified audience with an account of what he suggests happened when Keane fell out with Arter and Jon Walters when the squad was together around the France and USA games at the start of the summer.
Ward was not in the squad at the time and so his version of events is clearly second hand but it is a colourful account, which O’Neill made clear Keane disputes, conveyed without any apparent sense of shock or disbelief.
In it, he alleges that Ireland’s assistant manager and Walters, who famously fell out when Walters left Ipswich eight years ago while Keane was manager, appeared to be on the brink of a physical confrontation after Keane had questioned the pair’s professionalism over their failure to train on consecutive days.
A few days later, Keane again approached Arter as he received treatment for a muscle injury and, it is claimed, began to abuse him in the most vulgar terms for his failure to take part in the team’s training session.
Arter is said to have taken issue with the Cork man’s tone and walked out, returning to his room while, it is alleged by Ward, Keane continued to loudly abuse him.
O’Neill had previously acknowledged there had indeed been a confrontation between Keane and the two players but the Burnley defender’s version has it going on over several days.
It had been widely believed to revolve around the 47-year-old criticising the players over their recurring fitness problems which the audio seems to confirm but the manager said his assistant’s account of what had transpired is different, although he declined to say in what detail or to what extent.
He made it abundantly clear, however, that he retains complete faith in his right-hand man who he described, along with John Robertson, as one of two “brilliant, brilliant assistant managers,” he had worked with over the course of his career.
Keane’s role, he suggested, was to push the Ireland players, to press them to get more out of themselves much as he had done as the leader of the great Manchester United team he played in.
“He drove them on and they have all admitted that,” O’Neill said of the multi-title winning United side in which Keane starred for more than a decade.
“He was looking for exacting standards and that’s exactly what I want; exacting standards whatever way they are mentioned to people.
“If people are not up to them, not necessarily in terms of ability all the time, then I do think the players or other people have to have a look at them. That’s not to say that every utterance that myself or Roy Keane makes is absolutely and utterly correct.”
Arter clearly felt that in his instance that a line was crossed and while O’Neill again suggested that there were other considerations for the player and expressed the hope that “the game hasn’t changed that much that there are things you can say to a player, maybe using some industrial heavy-duty language,” he suggested that the two men would talk once tonight’s game is out of the way.
“I think there might be a bit of a reconciliation between Roy and Harry, certainly Roy is up for that.”
He joked his way around the issue of whether this meant Keane would offer the apology to Arter it has been suggested the player has made a condition of his return.
And it is not entirely clear how the midfielder’s international future might be affected by all of this with the management clearly taking a dim view of the way he has handled it, while there has been no public support for him by other players.
David Meyler was prepared to attend yesterday’s press conference and fairly cheerily go along with O’Neill telling everyone how they had had a falling out on the training ground last Friday but were now on the best of terms.
Ward’s prospects, he said, would not be damaged although he said he had little sympathy for the embarrassment the Dubliner had suffered as a result of the conversation being leaked online.
“I think Stephen has apologised to him [Keane],” he said.
“I think Roy initially was a little bit disappointed and I think he’s going to speak to Stephen later on but it has all happened today. He [Ward] has been betrayed by some of his friends, who he has known for a long, long time. That will be a disappointment for him.”
After a Polish press conference based around the more traditional, “it will be a tough game” routine, the handful of local reporters sat in largely silent bemusement as all of this unfolded.
As for the game itself, well, it is hard to see how, outside of another hefty defeat or runaway win, it really matters all that much.
O’Neill will certainly be anxious to avoid the additional damage that would be done by the former while he waits, in hope, for players to return for next month’s visits by Denmark and Wales. And matters were not helped yesterday by Seamus Coleman becoming the latest squad member to be ruled out of the game by an injury.
This particular fixture, such as it is, has a remarkable history; there have been 27 meetings between the two sides down the years, 23 of which were friendlies. Footage of a few of those might easily have provided the backbone of the case for establishing the Nations League.
The last one, in Poznan in five years ago, was certainly an uneventful affair and failed to produce a single goal. After the week he’s had, O’Neill would probably settle for that again right now.
Poland: Szczesny (Juventus); Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Glik (Monaco), Bednarek (Southampton), Reca (Atalanta); Klich (Leeds United) Krychowiak (Lokomotiv Moscow) Linetty (Sampdoria), Kurzawa (Amiens); Zielinski (Napoli); Lewandowski (Bayern Munich).
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Christie (Fulham), Duffy (Brighton), Long (Burnley), Clark (Newcastle United), Doherty (Wolves); Burke (Preston), Meyler (Reading), Hendrick (Burnley), Horgan (Hibernian); Robinson (Preston).