Roy Keane saga was a pound-shop Saipan and Poland game was just as dull
Much like Stephen Ward’s leaked message you were left wondering what it all boiled down to
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane during the friendly international against Poland in Wroclaw. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It was all too good to be true, clearly. Before last week, people didn’t know much about the Nations League but what they did know – or thought they knew – was that it meant the end of international friendlies. That was the whole point of it in the first place, or so all the early bumf about it implied.
There are, after all, no idler hands than those of an international soccer squad during a friendly week. It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice during all the fuss ahead of this one that it was around the back-to-back friendlies against France and the USA during the summer that Roy Keane had his words with Harry Arter and Jon Walters. And yet here we are again on a wet Tuesday night watching earnest, best-behaviour Ireland nullify an obligingly-nullifiable Poland side in Wroclaw.
Inevitably enough, there were long stretches where all this game did was serve as a reminder of the worth of having Keane around the place. To anyone banging the drum for the Ireland assistant manager to take a long walk off a short horizon, this one was ample rebuke. If there is no Roy Keane to talk about, then these games are all we have. Careful what you wish for, and all that.
It wasn’t a bad game. It was just a bit . . . meh. Much like the brouhaha surrounding Stephen Ward’s leaked message during the week, you were left wondering what it all boiled down to in the end. Ireland tried out a few fringe players, got some bright performances out of the likes of Callum O’Dowda, Shaun Williams and John Egan but ultimately couldn’t hold out for the win. When it was all over, everyone just got on with their lives. Did it change much? Probably not, in all truth.
Chances are, we’ll end up saying the same thing about the latest scandal of the week in time. Though the peek behind the curtain inadvertently given by Ward made for delicious listening, it really didn’t amount to an awful lot in the end. The news that Roy Keane has been known to lose his temper and scythe those around him down with a swish of his tongue is hardly earth-shaking at this stage.
(As a quick aside, is anyone clear on how the voice message came to be? It didn’t seem to be a recording of him telling the story in a group setting, otherwise there you’d have surely heard other voices reacting in real time – as everyone did when they heard it. So is it simply that Ward recorded it to send around to his mates? Is that a thing people do now? And if it is, are you not just begging for it to be shared with the world?)
There is a strong argument to be made that it was on the front pages and screaming out from every website simply because he is Roy Keane. If Martin O’Neill had anyone else as a number two, it would barely have registered. Nobody would be psycho-analysing the dynamic if this was O’Neill’s usual foil John Robertson, nobody would be theorising as to the worth of the experiment if it was any other past player. The rumours that swirled all summer about Keane having been involved in a bust-up of some sort most likely wouldn’t have made it out of the team hotel if he was anyone else. This was, at best, a kind of pound-shop Saipan.
Against that, it’s unavoidably true that a player has left the squad. Not a world-beater but then Ireland don’t have those to call on anymore. But Arter is at least a reasonably regular Premier League starter – and Ireland don’t have many of those to call on anymore either.
Against Poland, Williams did a more-than passable job of screening in front of the back four and knitting some passes together around midfield. But he is 31-years-old and was winning just his third cap. Wherever he goes from here, it’s a severe reach to imagine he is the future of the Ireland midfield. Arter might not be that either but the team is clearly better with him available than not.
So Keane and, to whatever extent he sees fit, O’Neill have some sorting out to do before the matches against Denmark and Wales come around next month. The performance in Wroclaw was no disgrace – Ireland were quick into the tackle when they didn’t have the ball and were demonstrably intent on trying to hold on to it when they did. Another hiding like the ones against Wales and Denmark would surely have brought about another bout of rancour and made it a long four weeks before it all comes around again.
As it is, unless it emerges somewhere along the way that the Ward message was leaked deliberately rather than just being the result of his mates not being able to hold their water, Keane will surely continue in his role. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of either of them to smooth the Arter situation over and Walters will likely crack a gag of some sort about it all the next time he has a microphone thrust under his nose.
And the Ireland show will roll on. Until the next scandal unfolds.