Roy Keane ‘very ready’ for Ireland challenge

New Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane chat during a training session yesterday. Picture: Andrew Paton/Getty
New Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane chat during a training session yesterday. Picture: Andrew Paton/Getty
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Roy Keane wasted little time in making his presence felt as he formally took up his duties as the Republic of Ireland’s new assistant manager yesterday.

The 42-year-old arrived at the Republic’s training base, Malahide United’s Gannon Park, at 9.30am – a full 90 minutes before manager Martin O’Neill and his players were due to begin work ahead of Friday night’s friendly against Latvia at the Aviva Stadium.

Keane went straight on to the training pitch to ensure everything was in place for the start of the morning session and then inspected the nearby gym facilities.

However, the former Ireland and Manchester United skipper, who was wearing full training kit, had time to sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans who had turned out to witness the birth of the new regime.

But he was back on the pitch long before the first wave of players, headed by current skipper Robbie Keane, arrived at 10.45am.

The smiling LA Galaxy striker expressed mock surprise at the size of the media pack which had assembled well in advance of the scheduled start amid a relaxed atmosphere.

O’Neill and the remainder of the squad arrived within minutes on the team coach and he and Keane looked on as the players warmed up, with keepers David Forde, Keiren Westwood and Rob Elliot working apart with new goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh.

The management duo watched from the sidelines, with Keane at one point dispatching a stray ball into a goal standing at the side of the pitch.

But the real work began once the cameras had been switched off and journalists asked to leave after their allotted time, with a new era in Irish football well and truly under way.

O’Neill was formally unveiled at a press conference in Dublin on Saturday afternoon but spoke to the media again yesterday afternoon. During the briefing the former Celtic manager expressed surprise that no club has taken the chance to hand Roy Keane a return to management.

O’Neill appointed the 42-year-old as his assistant last week, with Keane having been out of the game since losing his job at Ipswich in January 2011.

O’Neill was delighted to have landed a No 2 he believes will bring genuine quality to the international stage he once graced as a player, but revealed his astonishment at his availability.

He said: “I am. I know that he feels things didn’t go very well at Ipswich for him. I think sometimes it’s forgotten as well that, in his first season, he actually got Sunderland promoted and did very well. Some of those things get lost in time and people want to forget that.

“But I think I was surprised that he hadn’t had another opportunity, that somebody wouldn’t have taken a chance with him.

“Who knows what might happen here? He’s here, he is focussed on it. He wants to do it and I think you will find tomorrow that he is especially ready for it.”

O’Neill revealed that he spoke briefly to the players on Monday evening and then again yesterday morning before training, and he and Keane will spend the next two days getting to know the squad ahead of Friday’s friendly against Latvia.

The manager already knows the likes of John O’Shea and Keiren Westwood from his time at Sunderland, and there was another familiar face in midfielder Aiden McGeady, who he worked with during his successful stint at Celtic Park.

Keane, meanwhile, will meet the media this afternoon for the first time since his appointment and, given that much of the talk since his return to the Irish set-up was first mooted has centred around his Saipan bust-up with then manager Mick McCarthy ahead of the 2002 World Cup finals, there is sure to be a packed house.