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‘Every draw at the moment for Ireland is tough… Teams won’t dread playing us’

A nice, handy draw for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers? Not according to Roy Keane.

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown today.
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown today.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

JUST WHEN YOU thought it was safe to go ahead and make plans to travel to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, along comes Roy Keane with his logic and his common sense to put Saturday’s qualifying draw in perspective.

As they bid to end a 16-year hiatus from the World Cup, the Republic of Ireland will find themselves in Group D — alongside Wales, Austria, Serbia, Moldova and Georgia.

With the absence of any of the traditional big-hitters, it could possibly be described as a favourable draw. However, despite the general consensus, it certainly won’t be easy, as Roy Keane explained today at the launch of the SSE Airtricity National U17 League at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown.

“I’m always a bit wary because people seem to make two comments: it’s either a good draw or a bad draw. I never see draws that way. I just see them as a draw. Tough draw, games you look forward to.

“I’ve been involved in the team before, senior football, where I’ve thought that’s not a bad draw for us… and we didn’t do very well. And in other draws we’ve thought it’s going to be tough, yet we managed to get out of it.

“I try and look at every draw as obviously going to be difficult. The position we’re in at the moment, I don’t think teams will dread playing us. But we look forward to the games when they come around,” said the Ireland assistant manager, who was quick to point out that his main focus for now is the remaining Euro 2016 qualifiers against Gibraltar, Georgia, Germany and Poland.

“Again, it seems strange — I know Martin [O'Neill, Ireland manager] made the point last week — having the draw when we’ve got some pretty important matches coming up. It seems strange that people can try and distract you from that. The qualifying World Cup games will take care of itself. We’ve got pretty important games coming up in September and October to worry about.

“But whether I would suggest for one minute if it’s a good draw or a really tough draw… I think every draw at the moment for Ireland is always going to be tough.”

Keane had no complaint with how the fixtures for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign have been set. Three of Ireland’s first four games will be on the road, before finishing up with an away fixture against top seeds Wales.

Roy Keane and Ruud Dokter with Shaun Rogers, Tiernan Reilly, Michael Murphy, Thomas O'Donovan, Warren O'Hara and Sean Hughes Roy Keane, FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter and players from the SSE Airtricity U17 League. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I could sit here all day and say it would have been nice to get a couple of home games [first], but you just get on with it,” Keane said. “What do we do? Sit around all day and talk about it? Or just get on with it? We’ll just get on with it when they come around.”

Wales have been experiencing a good recent run of form under manager Chris Coleman. Following a big win over Belgium last month, the Welsh are well on course for Euro 2016 qualification and they’ve also risen to 10th in the world rankings. But Keane isn’t at all surprised by their progress.

“No, I think Wales have got some good players and they’re on the back of some good results which will give their players a lot of confidence,” he said. “It looks like obviously they’ll qualify [for Euro 2016] and that will be a massive confidence boost for a lot of their players.

“A lot of their players are at a good age, maturing well, whether it be their captain [Ashley Williams] and they obviously have [Gareth] Bale and [Aaron] Ramsey. I think sometimes a team just comes together. Whatever you say about rankings, they were the number one seeds in the [draw]. No, they’ve got some good players.”

When asked if Ireland can learn from the success of Wales, Keane said the key difference between the two countries is Ireland’s lack of players who are competing consistently at the highest level for their clubs.

“They have a lot of lads playing regularly in the Premier League. I still think we’re short of lads playing week-in-week-out in the Premier League, never mind the Bales and the Ramseys who are playing Champions League football. We’re probably behind them in terms of numbers.

“I’ve said that from day one when we got involved with the Irish senior team. We need more players playing regularly in the Premier League. Obviously Champions League is fantastic, that’s the highest level of football at the moment I think — obviously at club level — but for us we need lads, first and foremost, playing regularly. And we don’t have enough lads doing that in the Premier League.

“We’ve got a good few numbers at Premier League clubs but not all of them are regulars. A lot of other lads are in the Championship, so it makes it difficult. For example Wales, they’ve got a number of players playing week-in-week-out in the Premier League and certainly a couple of lads playing really top-level Champions League football.

“That, again, rubs off on the other players. When you’re a player and you’re working with top players, it does make you a better player. We need to get more players playing regularly in the Premier League. I keep saying it and I’ll continue to say it.”

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