Archive | February, 2023

The Banshee of Cork

3 Feb

Anyone who negotiates legal agreements for a living knows the power of compromise.  Cede a little here, turn a blind eye over there, and by jingo you’re in the boozer by 4:45pm.  It’s called being commercial, guys.  Indeed, whether it’s 1.55am in the nightclub or you’re signing away a slice of Crimea to the Russians, where would we be in life without the odd compromise?

For all their virtues, one man who’s never taken a chance on a compromise is Roy Keane.  Famously, there’s no middle ground with Roy.  No face-saving trade-offs.  No handshakes at the courtroom door.  One of us lives today, one of us dies.  The first casualty of every compromise is the truth.  And Cork’s favourite son has always wanted questions answered in a more truthful way than a complex world will allow.


The playing career of Roy Keane was a thesis in truth sought and justice meted out.  A Dostoyevsky novel in cleats.  Punishment.  Retribution.  Damages, ordinary and aggravated.  It was all in there.  Good didn’t always necessarily triumph, but there were themes of probity and rectitude and we all felt a little wiser after the event.

When Keane was out on the pitch crunching into people, a sense of moral obligation was at play.  An understanding that David Cameron’s Big Society couldn’t just be about community graffiti walls and giving up your seat for old people.  Big Societies still needed a judge, a juror, a hooded axeman.  We slept safe in our beds because we knew that rough centre-mids stood ready to visit violence on those that would harm us.

If it felt a bit beyond the pale at times, that mattered little to Keane.  After all, the world could be a frustrating place when the truth was staring you point blank in the face.  Didn’t it behoove all of us to put a two-footer in on those who refused to turn towards the light?  There’s so much beauty in the world and yet Patrick Vieira still went around bullying right-backs.  What was a box-to-box enforcer to do?


All manner of beefs, grudges and bad blood ensued in the name of rehabilitation.  Keane didn’t want to cripple Alf Haaland any more than Nadhim Zahawi wanted to file his returns.  But he did it so that Alf Inge would become a better person.  

Keane didn’t want to tell Mick McCarthy that he was a “shit player, a shit manager” and that he “wasn’t even Irish”.  Feck, no.  He did it because Mick McCarthy needed to know that he was a shit player, a shit manager and that he wasn’t even Irish.  And perhaps then the Irish national team wouldn’t be forced to turn up to World Cups with training facilities that resembled a car park.  

It’s faintly moving that Keane was prepared to give up playing in what was likely to be his last ever World Cup for the sake of his principles.  It would be more heart-rendering still if you thought that it had crossed Keane’s mind for even a moment not to say anything.  As ever, magnet to gospel that he is, it was foot-on-the-gas straight towards “you’re shit at your job and I’m going to tell you”.  No stop-offs or deviations en route.  No quick coffee at the service station of “should I damage my career in this way?”  And, in fairness, why should there be?  Don’t forget, the man wasn’t even Irish.  A point well made, if indeed one likely to draw blushes from about 70% of the rest of the squad.


The managerial game was always going to be a tough nut to crack for a tough nut who had a habit of giving people a crack.  And yet it started well for Keane, taking a Sunderland team fresh off the back of five straight losses in August to a Championship title in May.  True to nature, the disciplinary side of things came easy to Roy.  When Anthony Stokes, Marton Fulop and Tobias Hysen were late for the team coach on a trip to Barnsley one day, Keane simply left them behind.

Despite a Manager of the Year award and a first win against rivals Newcastle in 28 years, Keane was stood down three months into his third season.  The players apparently celebrating on hearing the news.  A blighted spell at Ipswich was best remembered for spats with the medical team, a barely fathomable twenty draws in a single season, and the re-signing of one of the blokes he wouldn’t even let on the team bus at Sunderland.  Oh and he didn’t like the fact they played in blue either.  

While Keane’s foray into the gaffer kingdom was ultimately one of limited success, you were left with a reassuring sense that he did things according to his lore, his beliefs.  Keane’s Austinian “orders backed by threats” philosophy was found wanting, but at least examined on its own terms.  No half-measures.  No compromise.  An immaculate code adherence, if indeed one that only served to make the evolution into his third act all the more unedifying.


For the past five years, Roy Keane has just played a character called Roy Keane.  The outbursts are now nothing more than a product commissioned by TV executives; manufactured eruptions delivered on cue while Dave Jones flicks us that wry smile as if to say “I might have to jump in here in a minute”.

It’s sad to see a man with so much natural pent-up rage selling it as a commodity on Sky Sports.  Like if Gerry Adams did panto, you can’t help but feel it cheapens what went before.

For me, Roy Keane’s greatest selling point wasn’t that you thought he was in the right in respect of every argument he got into.  It was that you knew that he was absolutely and utterly convinced that he was in the right.  Keane bled conviction.  Wore it as proudly as the captain’s armband he wore for every single team he ever played for.  It dishonours us all that he’s now stooging his own personality.


Perhaps on some level Roy appreciates the direction of the tide.  This is 2023, not 1997.  Today’s public space is dominated by pronouns, all-gender restrooms and Rylan; not midfield warriors whose terrifying presence alone lifted the standards of an entire team.  Maybe Keane recognises that the old world is best left where it is.  Let the Real Roy Keane calcify into a reflection of his era while he performs this mugging marionette reel in front of the cameras.  Smile and wave as he embarks on a new life as the Widow Twankey to Micah Richards’ Aladdin. 

It’s a living, I guess, and that’s something.  Bobby Moore won a World Cup and the English game left him for dead.  Jesse Owens beat the Nazis and ended up pumping gas at a petrol station.  The studio is warm at least and the chairs comfortable, even if Eni Aluko is sat in the next one along telling an audience of millions that Wales should rest Gareth Bale in the second game of a major tournament.

But it leaves the essence of the man in the rear view mirror.  Roy Keane of all people shouldn’t have allowed himself to be reduced to a cartoon husk.  Lee Sharpe, maybe.  Ian Wright, almost certainly.  But not Keano.  There were surely other career paths for Roy to take.  A full-blooded lollipop man.  A lay magistrate giving local ne’er-do-wells a fucking good sanctioning.  Maybe the world’s most terrifying headmaster.  Instead, we’re left with this “canned anger” punditry gig that’s gotten to the point where even Jamie Redknapp’s not frightened of him anymore.  And if that isn’t a compromise then I really don’t know what is.

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Ironing out a grievance.