If Roy Keane is not your thing, you might be best to stop reading now. This isn’t so much a glowing tribute either mind… more the story of when and how the lives of Keano – a fellow Corkonian – and I have intermingled at times.
It’s fair to say I only started to appreciate Keane’s true capabilities as a player later in his career. As someone who kept an eye on Leeds, he had a ridiculous ability to haul Manchester United and Ireland back into games they should have long been out of.
This was not so fun to watch when he was playing in red and dragging United to trophies seemingly beyond their reach. For Ireland, he was incredible to watch – though he didn’t fare so well against my ultimate football hero Zinedine Zidane when France won 1-0 at Landowne Road all those years ago.
I was studying journalism in DCU when Saipan happened – running in and out of the new library at the end of the campus, while trying to study French, to hear the latest about Bertie Ahern’s mediation efforts.
Keane was sent home, something often misunderstood, and I spent that World Cup tournament defending my Cork roots as various customers in the lovely (genuinely!) Dublin pub I worked in felt the need to vent their frustrations.
Customer A: ‘You’re from Cork – what do you think?’
Yours truly: ‘He’s dead right’
*promptly leaves to serve another customer as bedlam ensures*
Roy’s exit from Manchester United coincided with Cork City’s second league title. Instead of piling the plaudits on an exceptionally-talented City squad that had sealed victory with a classy win in front of a packed home crowd, the papers were full of Keane and pictures of him walking his dog.
One clever Sky journalist decided the news from Ireland might get the proud Corkman he was stalking to say a few words, and he did duly respond: ‘Very good, yeah’ or words to that effect while darting behind a car. A genuinely hilarious moment for all watching.
I might have seen Keane play in Celtic hoops after that but he unfortunately went for a quick toilet break right around the time manager Gordon Strachan was looking to make changes during the one game I went to in Glasgow but it’s the closer encounters that have left a longer impression.
While working for Setanta Sport, I had a chance to interview Keane one-on-one in 2007 as his Sunderland team visited Ireland on a pre-season tour. There was a press briefing beforehand where he played an enjoyable (from his point of view) game of cat and mouse with the Irish newspaper corp.
TV questions went first, followed by radio – where the last question was whether or not Keane would make any further additions to his squad. When he said he was hoping to pick up a player locally in Ireland, the red tops sat up a little straighter.
‘Is it a League of Ireland player, Roy?’
‘Yes,’ accompanied by the Keane ‘I know something you don’t know’ smile.
‘Is it a Cork City player, Roy?’
‘Is it Roy O’Donovan, Roy?’
‘You said last week that you didn’t have any interest in Roy?’
‘I changed my mind…’
Keane is articulate, genuine and thoughtful when you ask him a question, as I found out after the press conference. Times are changing (slowly), but – as a female reporter – I would often see surprise flicker across an interviewee’s face when I asked them something that makes it clear I know what I’m talking about. There was no such surprise with Roy. I was there to do a job, he expected I would do it – and that’s something I will always appreciate.
Keane attended Cork City’s post-League Cup final drinks in 2011 (having lost out 0-1 to Derry City), but there was an unmistakable buzz of excitement when he arrived in the door much to everyone’s amazement.
Players and fans alike were reduced to whispering huddles and star struck kids – much to the amusement of then City manager Tommy Dunne who insisted that Roy was quite happy to talk to anyone. Instead, the ‘but it’s Roy Keane’ excuse allowed the Mayfield man have a couple of quiet pints in the corner though he shook every hand pointed in his direction.
More recent Keane, in his role as Ireland assistant manager, attended the launch of Cork City’s new Patrons scheme. Having Keano’s name on the invite drew people in from across the county, without doubt, and you could have heard a pin drop throughout his Q&A with RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue (he doesn’t like giving speeches!).
The pair covered a huge range of topics – including the fact that Keane could never have seen himself playing for Jose Mourinho (cue lots of laughter) – and it’s clear he’s never lost his passion for the game, his hometown or his need to be true to himself.
Knowing exactly what was needed, he spoke of the importance of education and his regret around not getting more opportunities to study himself – and his presence meant a huge bump in coverage for the event itself.
And that’s the thing. To anyone who knows Roy, who has followed his career and who has listened to him speak at length, he has characteristics that are fairly typical of where he comes from. He has a strong opinion, he’s hugely interested in many sports, he’s mastered the art of conversation, his voice goes that little octave higher when he’s annoyed and, mostly, he says it as it is.
League of Ireland fans have often tried to rile Cork City fans by singing about Keane being a traitor. Much like the man himself, City fans are not bothered by nonsense and appreciate the fact that when Keano is nearby he’ll stop by and watch the club he signed for before Cobh Ramblers…
In the meantime, I’m personally delighted to see him involved with the Irish set up. I’m not sure what his future holds in terms of management, but it’s hugely encouraging that he’s willing to take a step back and learn from a new perspective. I wish him only the best when his time comes to move on (as all managers do!)
The quips, guffaws, smirks and ‘Roy’ stares will at least keep everyone on their toes along the way!