Martin O’Neill has insisted the furore surrounding the launch of assistant Roy Keane’s updated autobiography will not distract the Republic of Ireland from their Euro 2016 mission.
The Ireland manager met the media in Malahide yesterday after he and Keane had put the players through their paces for the first time since they met up ahead of the qualifiers against Gibraltar and Germany.
However, they did so with the younger man again making the headlines after copies of his book The Second Half were mistakenly put on sale briefly on Monday ahead of Thursday’s official launch. But if Keane’s differences with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, his decision to turn down the job as Celtic manager and a clash with one-time team-mate Peter Schmeichel were among the topics dominating the sports news agenda, O’Neill was refusing to be side-tracked.
He said: “The most important issue here are our games, and Saturday [the match against Gibraltar] is really, really important. We have come off the back of a great win against Georgia and it’s important to focus on that.
“Whatever headline… let’s just say we came here and there hadn’t been a book, there would have been something else, seriously. He [Keane] would have slipped down there on the field and we’d have been talking about that, maybe broken his leg or something like that. There would have been something.
“There will always be something here in the lead up to games, and that I can guarantee. I genuinely don’t know what the headlines are in the book. It obviously was going to cause some sort of furore at some stage or another – the very fact he put his name to this book would suggest that it’s exactly what would happen. It’s there and it doesn’t matter. The games are the most important things for us.”
Asked if he had discussed the book with Keane in advance, O’Neill said: “I thought about it at one stage or another but then, why? He’s over 21 – I think – and he should be capable of dealing with his own stuff.”
O’Neill, who asked Keane to join him in the Republic set-up when he was appointed in November last year, has had to become used to the focus he attracts ever since, with the approach from Celtic and Aston Villa’s subsequent successful attempt to appoint him as Paul Lambert’s assistant during the summer cases in point.
However, while much of his own time in front of the media is spent fielding questions about his assistant, he is adamant it is not an issue for him. “Not necessarily, not at all,” O’Neill said. “He’s an iconic figure. He’s been here for a long time. He was an absolutely fantastic footballer and now he’s making his way in management.”
O’Neill was in relaxed mood as he was quizzed about Keane’s book, and even joked about the former Ireland captain’s burgeoning beard after recently jokingly questioning the sartorial elegance of the Irish media pack.
Asked if he would be having a word with the 43-year-old, he said: “Well I must admit, I might well do because he looks really bedraggled. There is no doubt at all about it but I think he wants to join your group, so I think that’s the essence of it.”
Within the camp, the players too were taking all the fuss in their stride.
Former United midfielder Darron Gibson said: “There have been a few comments, but nobody’s talking about it. The lads just get on with it. There have been a few jokes made around the table, but like I said nothing serious. I have not seen any of the comments, to be honest with you, so I’m in no position to be comment on it. I’d rather not.”
Asked if Keane is the type of assistant whose leg players can pull, Gibson replied with a smile: “I’ve not tried. I’ll let you try first.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill has called 20-year-old Hull defender Brian Lenihan into his squad for the double-header after losing Seamus Coleman, as well as Shay Given and James McCarthy, due to injury.