At Euro 2012, the Republic of Ireland, under the direction of former manager Giovanni Trapattoni, seemed pleased to simply be there. Their performances on the pitch validated the belief that they were only making up the numbers required to field the tournament.
Three matches, three losses and a goal difference of minus eight ensured that the lasting memories of Ireland’s campaign in Poland and Ukraine were the Irish fans singing “The Fields of Athenry” and the drunken antics of FAI Chief Executive John Delaney.
Now, with Martin O’Neill in charge and Roy Keane serving as his right-hand man, the Boys in Green will not settle for anything less than an appearance in the Round of 16. A difficult group containing Belgium, Italy and Sweden would make this an incredible accomplishment, but Ireland are certainly taking their pre-tournament preparations seriously.
Ireland’s final tune-up before the tournament was a friendly against Belarus in Cork, Ireland. An embarrassing defeat for the home country led to a scathing reaction from Keane, the assistant manager of the side.
“We wanted to kill some of them [the players] last night,” Keane said. “They should be counting their blessings that they’ve managed to get on the flight. A reality check for one or two players who thought they were good players. You’re playing international football. Control the bloody ball. Pass it to your mates and if you lose it, run back and run back like you care.”
Keane has always been blunt with his assessments of what’s going on around him. He infamously walked out on the national team as a player before the 2002 World Cup, spectacularly falling out with manager Mick McCarthy, over, amongst other things, poor training facilities, in “the Saipan incident”. Keane took issue with Ireland’s preparations for that World Cup, and one brave reporter recently asked him what he would do if the training facilities weren’t up to par in France.
“I’ll obviously leave, won’t I,” jokingly replied Keane. “I’m never looking for perfection. I’m looking for progress and there has been massive progress over the last year or two.”
Ireland open Euro 2016 against Sweden on June 13. James McCarthy and Robbie Keane remain injury doubts for that match, but Ireland can rely on the talents of players like Jon Walters, Seamus Coleman and Aiden McGeady.
“My mindset is to go over and enjoy it,” said Keane. “We all have the same aim to do as well as we can. We’ll be ready.”
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