Relaxed Keane in full control of affairs


Soccer:It was remarked at the beginning of the first official Uefa press conference for Ireland this afternoon that the captain was looking decidedly more chipper than usual.

If the 32-year-old’s demeanour is any indication, the opening game against the world’s eighth-ranked team Croatia in Poznan tomorrow evening, is not weighing too heavily on the minds of the squad.

Keane is back on the world stage for the first time in 10 years with his country and this time he’ll lead the team out. The LA Galaxy striker is acutely aware of the journey, for him, for the fans, even for the press men and women.

“The Irish journalists have been waiting 10 years to get here, maybe we should let them ask some questions,” said the Dubliner, when the Uefa suits endeavoured to wrap up the briefing early, while hands were still waving frantically in the air.

If the captain takes control in a similar manner on the pitch tomorrow, the fans that filled the streets and squares of Poznan last night may just have something tangible to celebrate, rather than the mere fact they made it.

“It’s been a difficult 10 years for the country. In 2002, we had a great experience, with players like Steve Staunton and Niall Quinn, but you take things for granted, you think you are going to be in every tournament.
The tournament he says, “has changed the nation”, while he’s clearly planning on staying beyond the guaranteed three games in Group C.

“The country has been on its knees for a few years, so it is great for us as players to help change that and we want to give the people as much joy as possible over the next month or so.”

“It won’t be easy, one of toughest groups, but with our belief, there is no doubt in my mind that the players in this squad are ready to get out of the group.

“We’ve been together for three weeks or so, but everyone can feel it coming. Landing today and seeing all the Irish fans has given us all a lift just as it is about to get started.”
His manager, too, is also ending a long wait tomorrow. It’s been eight years since Giovanni Trapattoni led his own national team and he’s eager to repay the faith  his adopted land has put in him after the disappointment of Paris nearly three years ago.

“Each goal I am about to reach is always a challenge and this is the same for the national team. This has been the same throughout my career. I have the same determination and concentration and attention to detail and I am really grateful to the Irish people because they believed in my project.

"From the World Cup, I don’t want to talk about the France game, but today as we are in Poland, we really gave the country big satisfaction.”
The manager confirmed Keane will play up front with Kevin Doyle tomorrow, meaning he will start the same team that began the game against Hungary in Budapest on Monday.

Keane and Trapattoni were joined at the top table by Manuela Spinelli but, the manager’s translator had the day off, with Uefa providing the audio commentary in four languages.

Each translator, one presumes, has now gone for a lie down, because the manager can obfuscate in his mother tongue just as well as he does in others. However, as always, he gets his message across.

“Yesterday, one of the more critical aspects are sentences quoted from philosophers, no matter what the age is, those who remain young are the ones who want to attain goals.
“That is my character, what I feel, not what I have read. I had a real life lesson from a great character, I can quote (Gianni) Agnelli, the former Juventus president – ‘In order to be understood, do not stick to our times’.
"The most important thing is the human being.”

Basically, don’t stand still, keep moving and look forward, not back. All characteristics Ireland fans will hope to see in their team tomorrow.