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Macdara Ferris reporting from Versailles
The FAI Team photo this week showing the eight players in the Ireland squad who began their career in the League of Ireland could well have included a crucial member of the management team. Roy Keane of course began his career in the League of Ireland with Cobh Ramblers and he spoke on Thursday when asked by Extratime.ie about how the league played a crucial part in both his own career and for a core part of the Ireland Euro 2016 squad.
“Over the years people have been quick to criticise League of Ireland football but it played a huge part in my career,” said the Ireland assistant manager. “You saw yesterday with those lads that was brilliant, a really nice photograph."
So was he tempted to pull his a Cobh jersey on to stand beside the jerseys of Shelbourne (Wes Hoolahan), St. Patrick’s Athletic (Stephen Quinn), Cork City (Shane Long and David Meyler), Waterford United (Daryl Murphy), Bohemians (Stephen Ward), Derry City (James McLean) and Sligo Rovers (Seamus Coleman)? “No Ramblers player there,” said Keane. “With the criticism that the League of Ireland gets, it has played a big part in these lads having a very good career, so it was nice to see.”
Keane was speaking to the press in the media centre in Versailles following squad training which ended with a downpour of rain and had two absentees. Jon Walters, who looks set to miss the Belgium game, and Kieran Westwood who had a slight back issue.
Looking back at Ireland’s opening game of the tournament, the 1-1 draw with Sweden in the Stade de France, Keane said he enjoyed the experience. He is looking for the team to build on the performance and to continue to put a hard physical shift in.
“I enjoyed it. I think the fans did. The atmosphere with fantastic. Both sets of fans were brilliant. Both teams got stuck into each other. We all admire the skill but when you see people put their body on the line, I like that side of it. I want to see warriors out there.
“The performance was excellent. Disappointed we didn’t get that second goal. What we have to do now is build on that. We need to get a really good performance. We played some decent stuff, played with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief. Maybe people underestimated us. We have a big big challenge coming up over the next few days.”
When asked by Extratime.ie did he foresee anything different with the team’s set up following Belgium’s loss to Italy, Keane said that “You try not to. You focus on the performance and hope that you get enough points to get to the next round. It might be different in the last game but you can’t overanalyse it too much going into the second game.
“Things will take shape for the third match. We will have an idea of what we need. Goal difference might come into it. For the next game our attitude is to go out and do our best, put on a good performance and hopefully get the right result.”
Antonio Conte deployed his Italian team with three at the back in the win over Belgium and very effectively contained the Belgian attack in the game. Including goalkeeper Buffon, the average age of their defence was 33 years old (compared with 28.6 for Ireland). So any chance that Martin O’Neill will deploy something similar in Bordeaux on Saturday?
“Italy have been playing that system for a long, long time. Their players play it at club level. They have excellent players. You have to be careful when you see a team do well and think we can copy that. It doesn’t work that way.
“They’ve a lot of experienced players. The three central defenders they have, have been around for a long time. Just because it worked for them, it doesn’t mean it can work for us.”
Belgium will be looking to put the defeat in their Group E opening game against Italy behind them when Ireland face the wounded Red Devils this weekend.
“They have fantastic players,” was Keane’s assessment. “They have the potential to be a great team. Belgium are a very dangerous team as they lost to a very, very good Italian team. I still think Belgium have a big part to play in the tournament.”
When Keane was asked about the pressure on the Belgium management team following the loss to Italy from a member of their media, we got a classic Roy Keane line to conclude the lunchtime press conference. “Are you trying to suggest that we are favourites for the game? I think you’ve been drinking.”
Extratime.ie will give you a flavour of what Euro 2016 is all about throughout the tournament from our four man team based in France. Amongst the games we are covering over the next few days are Ireland v Belgium, England v Wales, Germany v Poland and Ukraine v Northern Ireland, as well as being in Versailles reporting from the Ireland camp.