"Roy Keane was my dream player to play against... he wasn't a clever player" - David Hillier 3 months ago

"Roy Keane was my dream player to play against... he wasn't a clever player" - David Hillier

"He owes me a pair of Gucci loafers, if he's listening!"

Roy Keane is often recalled as an enforcer and a pitbull - this snarling figure that motivated by a mix of intimidation and his incredible force of will - but he was a much more rounded, skilful and courageous player than just that.


In his early years with Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, Keane was more of a box-to-box player and he got on the end of a lot of scoring chances. As well as doing his distribution and defensive duties, he averaged 11 goals a season with Forest. That dropped to six a season for the first part of his United career, but he did bag 12 goals the season after leading the club to a famous Treble success.

Keane made a huge impact during his three seasons at Forest and he is still fondly regarded there. One Scott Gemmill quote about his former teammate, and his manager Brian Clough, sums up how key a player the young Corkman became at The City Ground. Gemmill once told The Telegraph:

"At the end of the game, Clough would normally be on his knees, offering to untie Keane’s boots for him, because he idolised Keane."

One player that was not in awe of Keane was former Arsenal and Portsmouth midfielder David Hillier. The midfielder, who played over 140 times for the Gunners, claims he always had an easy ride when playing against Forest teams with Keane in their midfield.


Roy Keane David Hillier (left) and David O'Leary (right) of Arsenal celebrate after their victory in the Barclays Division One match against Manchester United, at Highbury Stadium in 1991. Arsenal won the match 3-1 to win the championship. (Credit: David Cannon/Allsport)

'Roy Keane weren’t a clever player'

David Hillier made a recent appearance on the Under The Cosh podcast, the former Arsenal midfielder was asked what teams, and players, he always revelled facing off with.


"I had a few [stand-out] games," he began. "I had a game against Roy Keane at Forest.

"We played them in the cup. F***ing hell, I camped all over him, mate. He was my dream player to play against because he, Carlton Palmer, perfect for me.

"Used to rangey, long, simple runs, not clever players, easy to pick off. Roy Keane weren't a clever player when he made runs. He was just direct third man run, that’s all it was.

"It was standard training. Into the front, back into the midfield, the other midfielder goes - just track his run. I had the ability to get the ball off them and I could play a pass so I could just come out of it, just play a pass off."

In league encounters, during Keane's three seasons at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal beat Clough's side twice, drew three times and lost once. Keane scored in two of those drawn games, at a Highbury ground that he is on the record as saying was his favourite away venue to play at.

Arsenal eliminated Forest in both the League Cup and FA Cup, in 1992/93, and the game Hillier was referring to was a 2-0 win in the FA Cup, at Highbury. Ian Wright scored both Arsenal goals in that game, and the Gunners would go on to win that competition, as part of a cup double.


Asked if he had a comparable engine to the former United and Ireland captain, Hillier declared, "Oh I was easily as fit as Roy Keane, easily. I was fitter than Roy Keane.

"In fact, I was so fit that when he got stuck at a nightclub - when we was out that night and he didn’t get in cause he had trainers on - I ran back to the hotel got him a pair of shoes and came back, I was that fit!

"I still had enough running. And he owes me a pair of Gucci loafers if he’s listening. That was how fit I was. But I could, I had a good distance and I had a good pace over that distance and I used to pick him off."

Hillier is now 52 [just a year older than Keane] and regularly lines out in 'Masters' and legends fixtures. Now that Keane has laced up for the United Legends, one hopes we get to see him face off with Hillier to see if they can settle old scores.

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