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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane (file pic).
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'He's been fantastic with me' - Ireland players back Roy Keane after Arter/Walters argument
Conor Hourihane and Graham Burke have both reserved praise for the assistant boss.

IRELAND PLAYERS CONOR Hourihane and Graham Burke have both backed Roy Keane following the latest controversy involving the assistant boss.

In a recent interview with the Irish Daily Mirror, manager Martin O’Neill revealed that Keane was involved in an altercation with both Harry Arter and Jon Walters the last time the Irish squad met up.

And while Walters has linked up with the current Irish squad ahead of the forthcoming matches with Wales and Poland and appears to have gotten over the incident, Arter has made himself unavailable for international duty.

O’Neill on Monday suggested that the row with Keane influenced the Cardiff midfielder’s decision and reiterated his support for the assistant boss.

Sections of the media have been critical of the Corkonian, particularly given that it is not the first controversial incident he has been at the centre of in five years as O’Neill’s number two.

However, when two of the Irish squad’s players were asked about the fiery ex-Man United star this week, both were highly complimentary.

“He’s been brilliant with me ever since I came in,” said Burke. “Going to Preston, he’s given me words of advice on that, so I only have [praise] for Roy.”

Granted, as a relatively new member of the Irish squad, Burke has only become acquainted with Keane recently.

The same cannot be said for Hourihane though. The Aston Villa star has been a regular member of the Irish squad for a little over a year — making his Ireland debut in a March 2017 friendly against Iceland.

But even before then, the midfielder knew Keane well. The former Ireland international signed his fellow Cork native twice during his time as a manager, bringing him to Sunderland and Ipswich. 

Roy’s been fantastic with myself ever since I’ve been young,” Hourihane says. “He’s always been giving me words of advice along the way. He’s been first class to myself, so I’ve only got high words to speak about Roy.

“He was one of the best midfielders we produced in this country. He’s won countless trophies and caps, if you can learn anything off him — especially as a midfielder like myself — it’ll only improve your game. He’s been fantastic with me.”

Hourihane also confirmed that the immense drive, which was a defining characteristic of Keane as a player, has been still very much in evidence since he became a coach.

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“That’ll never leave him,” he explains. “If you let standards go any little bit, he’s on the case, so that’s fantastic to have as well — he keeps you on your toes.”

Echoing the words of team-mate Ciaran Clark, Hourihane urged the Irish side to focus on upcoming games with Wales and Poland, and avoid getting too distracted by all the recent talk regarding the controversial absences of Harry Arter and Declan Rice from the current squad.

Declan and Harry have been spoken about in the last couple of weeks, but ultimately it’s their decision on what they want to do. We’ve to concentrate on the lads that are here, ready to go for the two games ahead. What will be will be with them two lads.”

On Rice, who has played three friendlies for Ireland before the surprise announcement that he was considering switching international allegiance to England, Hourihane added: “I’d imagine there’s been people in his ear, saying bits and pieces to him. Maybe it’s turned his head a little bit. He’s obviously made his decision to take a bit of time out — everyone has to respect that. Whatever will be will be with Declan. We have to concentrate on the lads that are here.

“We have a big game against Wales coming this week that we’re all fully focused on and in Poland after that. We have to look after those two games. Whatever happens with Declan in the future, we’ll wait and see.”

While James McClean recently appeared to criticise Rice on Twitter and agree with former international Kevin Kilbane’s suggestion that players who need to contemplate representing the country should be disregarded, Hourihane suggested the absent pair would be welcomed back into the camp if they chose to return.

“I’d imagine so,” he says, when asked if the squad would be happy with their prospective reintroduction into the group. “That’s the way it’ll be seen. Whatever happens with them two, we’ll wait and see. If they do come back, they do. If they don’t, they don’t. So time will tell.”

The former Barnsley player did, however, admit to having mixed feelings about Arter’s absence, with the selfish part of him glad it increases the likelihood that he will be picked in midfield for the upcoming matches.

“It’s obviously disappointing for us not to have him. He’s a very good player, Harry. But ultimately, if it’s a body less, then for midfielders, there’s a place up for grabs. So you have to go about your business in training in the right way and hopefully over the course of next couple of games, I’ll get the nudge and win another cap.”

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