In a partly familiar fashion to a decade ago, Roy Keane has found himself a lone voice railing against an acceptance of failure cultivated by the association and embraced by the supporters. He has a point.
“I think the players and even the supporters, they all have to change their mentality and it’s just nonsense from players speaking after the games about how great the supporters are.” The comments made by Roy Keane in ITV’s purpose built Warsaw studio on Thursday evening would have been blown out of proportion had any proportion been attributed to them in the first instance. Since 2002, Keane’s standing in the eyes of an Irish public of which he was once the apple of every eye, has diminished at a rate of knots. A decade is a long time, but quite the fall from grace for a man that pre Saipan was adored and adorned, the obdurate exception to the happy-go-lucky Irish rule, still surprises. One Irish fan roaming the streets of Gdansk on Friday morning in the light, sober aftermath of the night before commented that Keane was “tarnished.” Another said he could no longer take the former captain seriously. The past tense featured predominately, but there was no sense of yearning for times gone by. They “had respect” for him, they once “loved” him.
Six years have passed since Keane’s retirement from playing, a brief box ticking exercise at boyhood club Glasgow Celtic the underwhelming culminative point. What the man from Cobh, more of a indomitable strider than a rambler the name of his first club would suggest, had on his side during his playing career was the influence he imparted on teams and colleagues, and the accolades he incidentally picked up along the silver laden path. They offered a palpable riposte to criticism of Keane’s actions, his Saipan set-to the most divisive of all. Back then, the country was split down the middle. Now, that level of support has waned to a fraction of it’s height as Keane’s achievements become more of a distant afterthought. A loudmouth, with no substance to back up his comments is as succinct a paraphrase of accrued Irish opinion as you are likely to require. Only resentment towards the FAI on his part perhaps.
There is a sense though, that Keane’s comments have been dismissed out of hand, and were always likely to be, in a bow to acrimony towards him from the Irish people. That he makes an entirely reasonable point seems neither here nor there. Just how brutal Keane was, in the midst of an evidently emotive time for the Irish there and in voice and those watching from home, seemed to have been the spark that engendered such antipathy in reply from the fans. Such a representation, in an age where Ireland are considered poor relations to Europe’s frontrunners on an economic level and now the laughing stock among the diners at football’s top table, arguably provided the country with an illustration of their worth and their own defiance to perceptions from elsewhere. The Fields of Athenry was making an indelible mark on an Eastern European outpost, with the world watching. It was a far cry from its humble beginnings, penned by journeyman labourer Pete St. John in 1970’s Dublin. Consider the comments separate from emotional attachment though and they have undoubted merit. That Keane shows such indifference towards such affection riles Ireland fans. Callous is how he is.
In preparation for his column in Sunday’s edition of The Sun newspaper, the sixty seventy time capped midfielder qualified his earlier comments. “People seem to have misunderstood me. I’ve no problem with fans singing.” However, he added, “There is a danger that the singing gets the players thinking that what has just happened on the pitch is acceptable when it’s not.” Spiky but prevalent, inconsiderate but considered, he has a point. Had Keane required justification, he would not have needed to wait long for its arrival. Within ten minutes of Pedro Proenḉa blowing the whistle which signalled the end of the most one sided affair, a chastening and a chasing in equal measure, in the European Championships in over thirty years, the FAI had released a statement on their website.
“The Football Association of Ireland would like pay tribute to our fans who have once again proven that they are amongst the very best in the world. The atmosphere that our supporters generated in the stadium was phenomenal and has brought great pride to our country. Our players and management are disappointed that they could not get the result tonight that would have kept us in contention to qualify for the knock out stages and give the fans what they are hoping for.
CEO of the Football Association of Ireland, John Delaney, said ‘The Irish fans have made many sacrifices to follow our squad and have been absolutely amazing. The abiding memory that we will take away from this match will be the many thousands of Irish fans singing the ‘Fields of Athenry’ right up to and beyond the final whistle. They are a credit to the game and to our country. On behalf of the FAI, the squad and management team I would like to thank them for their incredible support.’”
John Delaney, the purveyor and beneficiary of one of the most impressive turnarounds in public opinion Ireland has seen since the turn of the millennium, by virtue of simply buying affection it should be added, had found the peg with which to hang the full repertoire of excuses to be spun from bullish FAI personnel in the intervening days. The supporters have every right to sing, be it in victory or defeat, but what Keane feared was the threat of the apparent appeasing of Irish fans in some way justifying the ends, in this case, the most distressing of defeats. Nevermind the opposition, here was a team that lay down in the meekest fashion, offering futile resistance against a Spanish side that have in the recent past have been made labour to victory by stubborn opponents. No such obduracy here.
Appeased the fans appeared to be and Giovanni Trapattoni pointed precisely to that when facing questions about his future on Friday afternoon. Normally, the post-match media assembly the day after a match would be a time for considered analysis, the frayed tempers and emotions running high of the night before having receded. Such was the passivity displayed by Trapattoni, in light of his team’s inadequacies on Thursday, an unfortunate trait endured throughout most of his reign, it would have been hard to contemplate a more flaccid appearance. Buoyant and bullish, as expected, Trapattoni bounded out. Presumably at this point, having realised Athenry was an Irish song being sung by the Irish, he pointed to the unerring support of the hordes of green, as strong a vocal performance to come from these shores in years, in support of his continuation in the role. “The Irish people can decide. After three goals yesterday, they applauded. We must be proud,” he proclaimed. They had his vote, and he theirs. Perhaps Ireland should send Davy Keogh to Stockholm for next year’s Eurovision extravaganza.
While he clutches at non-existent straws, there seems to be little sign of the widely held exasperation with Trapattoni and his methods abating. A World Cup campaign, destination Brazil lies ahead with the Italian at the helm. In truth, long before the former AC Milan and Juventus manager or even Roy Keane had become central to the Irish international team story, the supporters had written themselves into the chapters of folklore in Germany and Italy, halcyon days before the divisive ilk of the aforementioned reared their heads. In Gdansk on Thursday evening, the Irish had a reputation of twenty four years to uphold, ten years consigned to a watching brief from afar behind them. The void left was to be filled by a considerable ding, and they were doing it for themselves. Value in enjoyment, an unquenchable exuberance and that obligation to live up their reputation meant a singsong whatever the weather or score was as predictable as the methodology that remains the crux of the issue.
That aside, was Giovanni Trapattoni hiding behind the applause of an Irish travelling contingent renowned almost exclusively for their capacity and proclivity for intoxication? Did the masses awake from their slumber on Friday morning bleary eyed and wondering what misdemeanours they had suffered at the expense of the previous day’s excesses?
What pained Keane, in making his point he showed the foresight of a man embattled and still embittered by the FAI and the Republic of Ireland team, was the subsequent shirking of responsibility from the levels of management. Trapattoni hid behind the supporter chorus. These are the same people who don’t see the worth in attending home matches, be it high profile friendlies, qualification sealing parties or sun drenched send offs. The recession plays a part, as does the failings of Trapattoni and his team. Those who do attend experience the almost deathly silence in the stands. Delaney deflected attention away from an insipid surrendering not in keeping with Irish ideals or what this Trapattoni team was supposedly all about.
Had some discord emanated from the stands, it would have at least provided something to address. A feeling that the fans were not quite enamoured with the team’s performance. At least then, it would not breed complacency. With Trapattoni’s contractual situation, he signed on for another campaign shortly after qualification for the European Championship’s had been achieved, as it is and the FAI’s coffers boosted by mere qualification, it makes perfect economic sense for all to remain the same. The bare minimum suits the suits, it suits Trapattoni and as Roy Keane suspects, it suits the supporters. The latter may not be the case in a sober reality, but he had a point.
On Tuesday, the long journey home for tens of thousands begins. It’s a long way to Tipperary. All together now.
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