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08th Jan 2023

Tommy Tiernan’s Roy Keane interview proves, like never before, that you can’t please everyone

Niall McIntyre

Some thought it was ‘dull as dishwater.’ Others thought it was ‘engaging, fascinating, intense.’

Journalists Vincent Hogan and Paul Kimmage were both singing off the same hymn sheet on this one, in that Hogan said it was ‘awful’ and Kimmage said it was ‘shite.’

On the other hand, hurling pundit Brian Carroll said it was ‘compelling,’ and, sitting there in the audience, he felt that ‘you could cut the tension with a knife.’

You certainly could have.

Good, bad? The reality, as is often the case, is probably somewhere down the middle.

This writer would tend to agree with Carroll, and back Tiernan, on the basis that it was never really going to be any different. If some sort of wide-open, psychological deep-dive was what you were expecting then the only explanation is that you were thinking about a different man.

This is Roy Keane we’re talking about.

Roy Keane

Faces in the audience lit with pleasant surprise the minute Fred Cooke told them Roy Keane was the mystery guest. The Cork-man emerged from the shadows, sheepishly, you’d have to say, before shaking Tiernan’s hand and taking a seat.

Some casual chit-chat to start-off, good to see you, good to be here, the usual, before Tiernan did his thing. His first real hard-hitter of a question was when he asked Keane about not drinking anymore.

“Yeah, I don’t drink,” was Keane’s answer.

“Don’t smoke, don’t do drugs,” he added.

“And I don’t sleep with other women.

“But I’ve a few other bad habits let me tell you.”

Which are, asks Tommy…

“Chocolate, I love my chocolate. But I try to look after myself yeah, why not?

Tommy was going to have to work hard tonight but he would have known that from the word-go. He digs a little deeper, finds nothing, and eventually, well, he cracks. He says what’s on his mind and asks Keane why he’s so guarded.

“I think you do have (to have) a guard up,” Keane replies tellingly.

“Sometimes you have to be wary of people crossing a line with you because what happens, if you’re in the public eye, people think they get to know you, they don’t know what boundaries they have with you.

“And they have to know where that line is, because they can be quite happy to cross it,” he adds.

Fair enough. Which bring us to to the crux of it. Keane grew up in Mayfield, a suburb in Cork city. He did not like, nor did he do well in school, “something I’m not proud of,” he says, and that’s why his focus was forever and always on sport.

And sport, as we all know, is a dog-eat-dog world.

“Where I grew up, Mayfield, when I opened my front door, there were games going on, hurling, soccer.

“All my brothers played sport, my dad, my uncles. I was born to be involved in some level of sport. I was already in that environment of competing with people out in the street.”

He says then that, aged eight or nine, he was already fighting with his team-mates at Rockmount. He was already questioning the ones who, by not committing like he was, were dragging both him and the rest of the team down.

“I couldn’t understand that (players that weren’t committed)” he says.

“Was it a rough part of the city?” interjects Tommy.

“I wouldn’t use that word ‘rough,’ no.”

“Would other people use that word?”

Tough might have been a better word, and it’s easy to see where Keane got his toughness from. Because, as we saw throughout this interview, whether it’s toughness or single-mindedness or self-belief or even just a plain intention to show no weakness – that’s still his modus operandi.

Many of us might want him to open up and talk emotionally about things but he never felt the need to before and he doesn’t feel the need to now.

He’s no easier to crack in conversation that he was on the field because, really and truly, he’s still the same man.

“Maybe,” the 51-year-old eventually responds.

“Sometimes when I was younger, back from England, I’d bring my kids out to where I was born and reared. And they’d be a bit… unsure.”

Tommy goes again.

We all know about Keane’s achievements as a player. Many would refer to him as one of the best midfielders in the world. Yet sitting here, and sitting wherever, he remains incredibly and genuinely modest about his own abilities.

“I had to play on the edge because technically, I wasn’t a very good player,” he says matter-of-factly.

“So I was always surrounded by people that were very, very good. People say I worked hard, but a lot of people work hard. You still need the breaks, and I got them.”

And just about now, we’re beginning to see it. Tiernan asks him about his emotions as a player – and the one that Keane keeps coming back to, is fear, the fear of failure.

He talks about seeing players go from Cork over to England and coming back, all very sharpish, as a failure. He didn’t want that and that’s why he was always looking over his shoulder. To succeed he could show no weakness and, even after all these years, he shows no weakness now.

Tiernan does a bit more digging. He asks about being a husband, a father and well, those questions go down like led balloons. Keane rarely shares much information about his private life because he doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t have to.

“The only time I really cried was when I left United,” is the height of it, emotions-wise.

“After I had a disagreement with a few people. Other than that, you’re very much in that bubble, in the zone. I was going to war every week.”

And nothing has changed because, old habits die hard, he’s still going to war now…

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