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Duff on Robbie Keane in the Ireland set-up: 'He would bring a spark and a bond back with the fans'

The former Chelsea winger also suggested both Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny would be good choices for the vacant Boys in Green role.

Ireland's Robbie Keane and Damien Duff represented Ireland together on numerous occasions.
Ireland's Robbie Keane and Damien Duff represented Ireland together on numerous occasions.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

IRELAND LEGEND DAMIEN Duff believes his former international team-mate Robbie Keane would be a welcome addition to the Ireland set-up.

The former winger, who earned 100 caps for his country, feels the ex-Tottenham and Leeds striker would have plenty to offer as part of a new Irish management team, after the departures of Martin O’Neill and his staff were confirmed on Wednesday.

“He would bring a spark and a bond back with the fans,” Duff said, speaking at the Beacon Hospital’s launch of a new sports medicine programme in partnership with Leinster Senior Football League.

“I know all the lads love him and he would give the whole place a lift. He can’t pull the jersey back on and score goals for us, but he might be able to teach the lads around the box that guile, that x-factor and streetwiseness that I don’t think anyone has anymore in the Irish team.”

In addition, Duff thinks both Stephen Kenny and Mick McCarthy would both be strong choices for the vacant Ireland role, with Keane potentially part of the coaching staff as well.

“[Robbie is] doing his badges and I’m sure he’d be a great coach, a great manager and what a way to learn under Mick. He would be jumping in at the deep end and good luck to him if that did happen, but usually when Robbie is doing something in his career, I always get a text or a call, and I haven’t had it yet.”

On the prospect of his old boss McCarthy returning for a second stint as Ireland manager, Duff added: “I’ll just reference when we played under him, we were always organised, compact, we knew what our qualities were. I think he was on the radio maybe three or four weeks ago and someone put it to him: ‘Does he think he has unfinished business here?’ He said: ‘No, he wasn’t saying he wanted to come back.’ So that phrase will be used a lot this week.

Do I have unfinished business at Newcastle United? Yeah, I had a nightmare there. But would I go back? Absolutely not. Do I have unfinished business at Melbourne City? Absolutely. Would I go back? Absolutely. Unfinished business, you can look at it both ways. I’m sure you [in the media] will be onto [McCarthy] in the next few days asking whether he is willing to come in.” 

Meanwhile, speaking on Newstalk’s Off the Ball last night, former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane suggested Kenny’s low-profile could potentially be a hindrance, adding that several members of the Irish squad would barely know who he is.

Duff, on the other hand, played down suggestions that Kenny’s League of Ireland background may count against him.

“If you were coming in as manager, if it was my ma, I couldn’t give two hoots. You know, you’re pulling on the Irish shirt, you’re representing your mam, your dad, your brothers, your sister, your wife, your in-laws, if you like them, your kids. It doesn’t matter who your manager is, you’re representing your country and it’s the proudest moment, trust me. There is no prouder moment in your career, in your life, than putting on the Ireland jersey. Who the manager is, the players won’t care.

“[Kenny has] done an amazing job with Dundalk. Year in year out they are the best footballing team in the league and they deservedly won the double this year. Maybe because he doesn’t have the Premier League or any big league behind him, will that sway it? I don’t know. He has to be in there getting an interview and in with a shout of getting the job. He’s been amazing. Yeah, it didn’t work out at Shamrock Rovers and Dunfermline, but he’s a brilliant, brilliant manager and absolutely he has to be in with a chance.”

Beacon Hospital's launch new sports medicine programme in partnership with Leinster Senior Football League Duff was speaking at the Beacon Hospital's launch of a new sports medicine programme in partnership with Leinster Senior Football League. Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

And asked whether it was the right decision for the Football Association of Ireland and Martin O’Neill to part ways, Duff replied: “I think so. It’s always sad to see people leave their post, whether they were sacked or resigned. But me personally this morning, was I shocked? No. Did I know it was coming, getting whispers inside? Absolutely not either. But I think it’s the correct time.

“Who do we get? Well, that’s why [FAI CEO] John Delaney gets paid the big bucks. Do we have the players that we’ve had in the past — and that’s not including me? Absolutely not. I think it’s just highlighted this week and maybe the past year with our results, and you put them up with maybe what the rugby team is doing, all you hear out of the rugby camp with what Joe Schmidt is doing is detail, organisation and all these buzz words. You never quite get that from the football side of things. Maybe with our quality of player, that’s what we need at the minute. What manager is going to bring that? I don’t know.

“I remember growing up, there would be nothing on when Ireland played. The road would be empty, my training would be cancelled because ‘no, we’re watching the Ireland game’. Whereas Monday night I had my lads out training thinking: ‘Would we wrap this up early to go home and watch the game?’ I thought: ‘No, if anything, let the session run over because what’s the rush home for?’

“They definitely have to win the public back, the last two, three games that have been on, it’s like background music to you. You have the laptop on doing your work, the game is on and you have a little scan. I think it has lost that feeling, that bond with the fans.

I was hoping my son would fall in love, what was the game? Denmark at home. You can feel it in the stadium, there’s a flatness. Even the national anthem, you look forward to hearing that but there’s just a flatness around the ground. I think whoever they bring back in, sorry that would suggest Mick, there has to be a feel-good factor.”

Duff added that the way in which players are being developed now was drastically different compared with when he was coming through as a player.

“I was more like a street footballer but those days are long gone. I know we harp on about it but they are. Everything is more structured now, players are more robotic in everything they do. And, like I said, [the Irish team are] a great bunch of lads, Seamus is a world-class player, but I definitely don’t think we have the quality that we used to. That would suggest to me that they need extra detail, they need extra organising from the top.”

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Paul Fennessy

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