REPUBLIC of Ireland skipper John O’Shea is confident manager Martin O’Neill will more than make up for the loss of Roy Keane if he lands the Celtic job, and revealed that the former Manchester United skipper has managed to maintain a “poker face” since news of his Parkhead talks become public knowledge.
O’Neill’s preparations for tonight’s friendly against World Cup finalists Italy have been carried out against the background of a sideshow in which his 42-year-old assistant has been installed as favourite for the vacant job at Parkhead after holding informal talks with his former club.
However, should Keane be appointed – Celtic have insisted he is only one of a series of candidates to replace Neil Lennon – O’Shea has no doubts that O’Neill’s expertise and personality would fill the void he would leave behind. The 33-year-old Sunderland defender said: “The manager we have is very important and very talented and, fortunately, we will have time for the manager, if it does happen, to adjust his backroom team accordingly for the forthcoming qualification games.
“In that sense, we are lucky that he will have a bit of time to adjust. He has brought Steve Walford and Steve Guppy in this week as well, so we are fortunate we have the time beforehand, if it does happen, to adjust. Believe me, the manager can do it himself as well.”
News of Keane’s candidacy spread like wildfire on Thursday as it emerged that his dream team partnership with O’Neill could end after barely six months and before their first competitive game.
The former Manchester United captain, however, was remaining tight-lipped as he took part in an open training session at the Aviva Stadium shortly before O’Neill confirmed he was in talks with Celtic, and it was business as usual once again on Friday morning for the session at Gannon Park in Malahide.
Asked if his former team-mate had said anything to the players, O’Shea said: “No. Obviously the lads have been trying to get a few hints here and there, but he’s kept a good poker face.”
Keane will travel to London for the clash with the Italians at Craven Cottage, but whether he boards the plane for the United States next Wednesday with further friendlies against Costa Rica and Portugal remains to be seen.
O’Shea admits he fears the worst, but is confident Ireland would cope with the loss of a man who has proved hugely inspirational since his addition to the backroom staff. Asked for his gut feeling, the defender said: “It looks very much like it now. Slowly but surely, it has snowballed into having talks with Celtic, so I would be very surprised if it doesn’t get across the line.
“If it does happen, it’s one of the clubs around the world that was going to entice him back into management and away from his current job. It’s something I’m sure he would really enjoy and look forward to and relish the challenge of managing a fantastic club like Celtic. But let’s wait and see if it does happen. As the manager said, we would be very disappointed because we know what a fantastic character he is to have fighting for us on our side going into matches.”
O’Neill admits he is yet to broach the subject of whether or not Keane could combine the two jobs, but O’Shea sees no reason why it could not be done. He said: “That’s something for people other than myself to talk about, but I can’t see why he couldn’t do it. But I’m sure Celtic and the FAI [Football Association of Ireland] would maybe prefer it to be one way or the other, but, hey, things have been done like that in the past, so why can’t it be done in the future?”