‘As long as we’re not in Saipan, we’ll be all right’ - Roy Keane gives Ireland Euro boost
Jonathan Walters returns from suspension to score both goals in a 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina and secure a 3-1 aggregate win in their play-off
Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane said that as long as their Euro 2016 preparations do not resemble the World Cup where he famously compared the team’s training ground to a car park, they will do just fine.
Keane’s walkout on the eve of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea has gone down in Irish folklore and the seven-times Premier League winner could not resist recalling the episode after Ireland beat Bosnia on Monday to reach the finals in France.
“We’ve been down this road before. As long as we’re not in Saipan, we’ll be all right,” a smiling Keane told national broadcaster RTE, referring to the Pacific Island made famous for his spat with then manager Mick McCarthy.
Brought back to the Ireland fold to be - in the words of manager Martin O'Neill - “bad, bad cop” to O'Neill’s “bad cop”, Keane’s return was just as newsworthy as his exit and O'Neill on Monday described it as one of his biggest decisions as boss.
But he said Keane, whom he had to drag onto the pitch after the final whistle to take the plaudits from the delirious home fans, had been absolutely phenomenal, calling him “an iconic figure that polarises opinion, but not in the dressing room”.
Recruited at considerable expense, Ireland's coaching duo struggled to fire up the side early on in qualification but Ireland became an increasingly difficult opponents, epitomised in Monday's 2-0 victory that secured a 3-1 win on aggregate.
Without possessing a player of Keane’s class or many to match some of the greats such as Paul McGrath, who helped put Ireland on the international map more than two decades ago, O'Neill has instead relied on a team who he said never gave up.
“I couldn’t be more proud, they’re a fantastic bunch of players. They have put heart and soul into the games, they’ve carried us through matches when maybe we’ve missed that piece of absolute genius,” O'Neill said.
“That moment when the referee blows the whistle and you're in France, it’s very special and so special because it means so much to so many people. It's the nights that you live for.”
A Jonathan Walters brace secured a second-leg play-off win at Aviva Stadium.
Walters, back from suspension, converted a penalty in the first half before adding a second 20 minutes from time to send Ireland back to the European Championships where they suffered a swift exit in 2012.
“The whole team on the pitch are heroes,” Walters said. “We did it the hard way, but we got there in the end. You’ve got to take it in because these moments don’t come round often in a career.
“It’s amazing. Every single player’s been part of this. Now we can put right what happened at the last European Championships,” the Stoke City striker said.
Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph said: “It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t have written that script. Thankfully I got to play some games and we’re through - that’s all that matters,”
Ireland, unbeaten at home in the group stages, join fellow play-off winners Hungary at France 2016 while the final two spots will be decided on Tuesday when Sweden travel to Denmark and Ukraine play away to Slovenia, both defending first leg leads.