Roy Keane relishing the battle of Tbilisi

‘Bring it on,’ says the Republic of Ireland assistant manager ahead of Georgia clash

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane during yesterday’s press briefing at Gannon Park in Malahide. “It’s going to be tough, obviously, but my goodness we’ve got to look forward to the game.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The standard accusation on these occasions is that the press generate unrealistic expectations for the team but Roy Keane, famously, doesn't go with the flow and as he stood in for Martin O'Neill pitchside yesterday, he caused some surprise by suggesting the media are terrified of what might happen the Republic of Ireland in Tbilisi.

O'Neill had said on Tuesday that he sensed a new, more serious mood in the camp now that the start of the qualifying campaign is almost upon us while Robbie Brady had talked the day before about the fact that the atmosphere is likely to be a little hostile on Sunday night. Now, when he is asked about the two views, Keane seemed to believe that they are no more than media constructs.

“I think everyone seems frightened to death in the media,” he said before telling the assembled pack: “We’ll be ready – don’t be worried about it.”

For some reason one reporter reacted by telling the 43-year-old: “I’m not worried.” Keane, however, declined to let it lie. “Well, you look worried,” he replied, with a hint of a grin.


There was a hint of humour about it all and Keane's comments to the daily newspaper reporters even have a hint of Carry On about them, with talk of friendlies as foreplay and the fear of an anticlimax.

They ended with him living playfully up to the bad guy image when asked how might he help to influence Jack Grealish as the youngster weighs up whether or not to play for Ireland.

‘What mood’

“It depends what mood I’m in,” he said, grinning again. “I could threaten him.”

The bulk of the time in between is spent re-enforcing the message he has been determined to deliver since he landed his current role late last year: that Ireland has good players who need to believe in their ability to do well over the forthcoming campaign.

It is, one suspects, a good thing to hear from a man like him if you are in the team hotel and he stops by for a chat, but it would be easier to believe he believes it if he hadn’t been so disparaging at times about better players than this current group.

Their first test comes this Sunday when, Keane insisted, victory is the only thing they should be considering. “The mind-set is to win every game you go in for,” he said.

“I’ve never approached any game in my life, and I’m sure it’s the same for the manager, thinking ‘would a draw be a good result?’ You don’t think those things.

“After the game, you might go ‘that wasn’t a bad result’ if you were 2-0 down with two minutes to go and you nick a point. You go ‘brilliant’. Or you get a man sent off and ye might be hanging in there. We might be winning 2-0 and that’s a bad draw. But the mind-set is ‘can we go and win a game of football?’” he adds.

On that, he said, it will be tough, but “that’s why we love the game,” he insisted. “If we thought these games were going to be easy then it would be pretty boring.” The Germans seem to cope, you might think, but nobody mentions that right now.

Is positive

Keane is positive about James McCarthy and glad, he said, to see Shay Given back. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said of the goalkeeper he once taunted for being overly anxious to rack up caps.

“And he’s been good in the group. Obviously, he wasn’t going to be tested last night and the manager has got to make a decision, but I don’t see the big problem with Shay getting back involved.”

The loss of Richard Dunne, he contended, makes Given's experience that much more of an asset whether he plays or not.

“When you’re going back into qualifying games you can’t beat having experienced players, even if they’re not in the starting 11, in amongst the group, on the training pitch . . . I guarantee that if you ask the other two or three keepers, they have benefitted from Shay being involved .

“Sometimes the media or supporters don’t see the benefits; it’s what we see around the hotel and on the training pitch but you’re looking for every little percentage that you can get in these situations.”

The pitchside chit chat contributes nothing, he maintained: “It’s nonsense.” But he continued to play ball, answering everything he’s asked. Well, nearly everything.

The one about Tom Cleverly drew a fairly blunt reminder that we're all here to talk about Ireland.

And, of course, Georgia . . . “Look, it will be a tough game, particularly away from home, but from the angle I’m looking at we’ve got to make sure we get our own together, get it right tactically, pick the right team, and if we’re at it then we can give them a tough game.

“It’s going to be tough, obviously, but my goodness we’ve got to look forward to the game. You keep going on about a hostile atmosphere. Brilliant! Bring it on.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times