Roy Keane: Irish team needs to play with courage and ‘balls’

Assistant manager calls on players to deliver performance of their lives against Italy

It is, Roy Keane seems to discover, almost unwittingly, easier to make a case for Italy than Ireland in Lille tomorrow night, but the Corkman has certainly put it up the players to turn in the performance of their lives with the former Manchester United star insisting there will be no shame in defeat as long as they have played with courage and "balls".

Keane admits that the performance on Saturday just wasn’t good enough but insists there is little point in dwelling on it.

“We haven’t even got time to overanalyse the last game,” he says. “Let’s get ready, put all our energy and efforts into the next game and believe we can get a result.” And when he says “all our energy” he means just that, with the 44 year-old suggesting management’s message to the players will be: “You run and you run and you run . . . you keep going, keep going until the game is over and after the game don’t worry if you’re shattered, we’ll carry you off the pitch.”

Disappointing

The players who underperformed against

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Belgium

, he says, will know deep down what they must do now and though he avoids naming names, there is an implied acceptance that James McCarthy was disappointing and a suggestion

Shane Long

, after being fouled, might not settle for seeking “sympathy”.

Overall, he admits, "a blind man could see we need to do better but it's not an impossible mission we're on. You talk about teams being better than you but that can't be in your mindset. We had this conversation about Belgium the other day. Individually they are very good, but if we're at our very best, with a little bit of luck and a couple of decisions going your way, we can win. It is possible. We have beaten Germany in the last year."

The better effort, the courage, the fight, he wants to see, “won’t guarantee we win a game of football,” he admits, “but as long as we work hard, don’t give the ball away as cheaply, cut out the individual mistakes and get a few decisions, then we’ve got a chance.”

Italy, of course, have a pretty good chance, no matter what. “I’ve seen them a number of times and they’re well organised, they clearly love to defend, they have got good options; they don’t necessarily like to pass it 800 times in the middle of the park, they put you under pressure by getting it forward, their wing backs get forward, they’re a big goal threat . . . I don’t want to be talking them up too much,” he suddenly says with a laugh, “but they’ve a bit of everything, that’s why they’re a good team.

Yellow cards

They have, he says, “good options from the bench if they want to rotate”, and they will use them in Lille as

Antonio Conte

looks to ensure the availability of almost all of the players who have picked up yellow cards. Several will miss this game due to bookings taken while protecting what was then a 1-0 lead over Belgium and like

Marc Wilmots

, who openly expressed his admiration for the defenders’ display, Keane suggests that Ireland’s players could do with learning a trick or two from their opponents.

“We have to be more streetwise than we were the other day,” he says. “Italy are one of the best teams in the world at being streetwise. We’re probably behind them in that part of it, but that comes from experience of big competitions.

“From a player’s point of view, if you smell danger and you think, ‘We’re in trouble here’, then yeah, you do whatever you can to get the right result. If that’s a foul, then you foul him. It’s not a crime. You might get a yellow card, you might even get a red, but your team might win. Sacrifices. You have to make sacrifices for your team. What do you think I would do?”

He will not be out there, of course, and neither will Jon Walters, with the Stoke City striker taking only a limited part in training yesterday. Keane talked about the possibility of getting the 32-year-old out on the pitch for even an hour, but his subsequent talk of needing to be "fair to the player" hinted at a significant underlying concern that lasting damage might be suffered by the striker if he were to start then aggravate the problem.

Disappointed

On the wider front, some changes are likely, with McCarthy and Ciarán Clark most likely to lose out, but Keane insists that everyone has a point to prove, with those who started in

Bordeaux

disappointed with the defeat, those who came on disappointed not to have been given more time, and those who didn’t disappointed not to have had an opportunity yet. In the circumstances, he says, they will be fired up for this one.

“You need the players who are comfortable on the ball to be brave against Italy,” he says.”You need to play with courage – and balls. It’s like a boxer when he gets knocked out; you get back up and start swinging, and hope for the best.”

That may not sound like a blueprint for success, but it gives a pretty decent idea of where Ireland find themselves ahead of this third group game.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times