Few, if any, topics in living memory have been as divisive among sports fans here as the events in and fallout from what happened in a far flung corner of a different continent nearly a dozen years ago. After Saipan, the point was often made that there are seemingly no grey areas when it comes to Roy Keane. Very much a case of the title of a certain awful yet ridiculously popular television programme. That being the case, there are probably an awful lot of peeved people at present. Their view of things smacks of lingering bitterness. Certain factors, however, should at least allow matters be viewed in even a slightly fairer light. Firstly, as was said while commenting on difficult matters in another code, sometimes one must appeal to the belief that there’s good and bad in everyone.
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane
Secondly, doubling back, retractions and plain old forgiveness are all part of sport. Maybe not so much in normal everyday life, and more is the pity. Anyway, the thing is, in team sports, several times players have banished, only to be welcomed back with open arms. An even better example exists in horse racing, where owners have taken horses off particular trainers – often multiple times – only to end up back where they started.
Reason being – both in terms of the team sports and the racing situation – that the quality of people they were leaving behind were simply too good to be left behind. Results have gone on to prove as much in the long run.
In the context of the Irish soccer manager’s appointment, it may have been the case that the FAI had little option but to take Roy Keane back aboard. Sources indicate it may have been a precondition to Martin O’Neill eventually acceding to their wooing. Doubtless, those peeved by Saipan etc feel positively affronted now. They could do worse than heed what happened in the other cases mentioned – that furore was nearly twelve years ago, draw a line under it, move on.
Now, the governing body may not have been overburdened with interested parties looking for the job, but they haven’t done badly out of it, given that they courted O’Neill before. Indeed, they may have won favour for what many will see as their willingness to take Keane back. It may simply be the case that water under the bridge can be used to improve the landscape, thereby delivering better results.
For all that, the question could justifiably be asked – have we got a dream duo or a ticking tinderbox? As with all these situations, the answer probably resides somewhere in the middle. Of course there’s the possibility things could combust. Keane’s nature hardly needs further elaboration, while O’Neill gives the impression he could be a fairly awkward customer to deal with as well.
Yet, while it’s understandable that appointing O’Neill and Keane could be seen as a gamble, gut feeling decrees that the positives from the appointment will outweigh the negatives. Greatest among them, perhaps, O’Neill feeling he could work with the prodigal son, and, more so, the FAI being willing to give it the opportunity to happen.
It was, mind you, in their interest to do so. Not only for the reasons outlined above either. Notwithstanding the limitations of our player pool that were glaringly exposed towards the end of the last regime, there’s an overwhelming sense that these men can muster better out of the talent that is there. So taking Ireland to a better place than where they are beginning from. Maybe not only in terms of football either.
Their doing so will – it must be said – depend on how the players take to the new setup. While the football knowledge and – more importantly – motivational qualities of the men from Derry and Cork are beyond reproach, the spiky nature of both is fairly thinly veiled as well.
Still, positivity tips the scales, it should work. Very few of the current players would’ve had any dealings with O’Neill. Even less bodies who were around for the Saipan brouhaha remain. The chief reason it could and should be a winner – from the perspective of the powerbrokers in Irish football – is a business one.
These guys will guarantee bums on seats. Either one would have on their own, you sense. And it’s well documented that those in control of the game in this country – and consequently the game itself – could use every cent going at present.
The fear that this all could backfire forever prevails, it should be suppressed. In the short term at least, good vibes abide, the crowds will come and the players will be motivated and dying to express themselves. God willing we might even see the Ireland team at least try to play some decent football. It’d be the first time in a long time!