Keane pulls out to avoid wrath of Ferguson

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The Independent Football

Roy Keane yesterday pulled out of the Republic of Ireland squad to save him from a simmering confrontation with Sir Alex Ferguson.

The 11th hour decision came after a training session in the morning - Keane's first for Ireland for two years - in which the Manchester United captain felt some soreness in a hamstring injury which has troubled him for weeks.

Keane insisted that he still wanted to travel to Poland for tomorrow's friendly but was warned by the Manchester United manager in a conversation over the weekend that he had better not go unless he was 100 per cent fit.

Ferguson is angry over Keane's decision to return to play for Ireland - especially because he thought the 32-year-old would only be taking part in competitive matches - and he has told his player in no uncertain terms. He is also irritated because, as yet, Keane has not properly explained his reasoning to him for his U-turn which was announced two weeks ago.

As such the withdrawal represents something of a victory for Ferguson as his orders have been followed - although the Ireland manager, Brian Kerr, clearly also felt it was best for Keane not to go. Ferguson has, it is understood, become increasingly agitated by Keane, who walked out on Ireland prior to the 2002 World Cup and then quit international football. Keane's uninspired performance against Liverpool on Saturday - his first start for almost a month - did not help matters.

The withdrawal was also a diplomatic decision by the Irish, although it raised suspicions. Kerr last night arrived in the this northern Polish town with the remnants of his decimated squad following a spate of cry-offs. He is still waiting to see if the other Keane, Robbie, joins the squad today after suffering a head injury against Arsenal on Sunday.

Last night Kerr said of Roy Keane: "When we came back from training the medical team had a look at him. He was anxious to go but we felt he could cause more damage to his hamstring and it could be aggravated by playing for us. So in the best interests to himself we felt there would be no point in him travelling. From our viewpoint he has not played much in the last three weeks and it is an ongoing problem. He trained well but the injury was clearly plaguing him. He still wanted to go but we said no on the basis that it was best for him to be treated at his club."

Kerr's assistant, Chris Hughton, added: "He was very upset about it. He really wanted to make the trip."

In his press conference prior to departure Kerr gave no hint that Roy Keane might withdraw but did say he would not push him into playing unless he was fit. "It was important for him to get out there with the lads [during training]," said Kerr of Keane's participation. "We have World Cup matches in September and October and Roy realises he needs to be part of the team and integrate himself into what is a changed team from the one he left in Japan."

Although the injury is undoubtedly genuine, the withdrawal will again raise doubts over whether or not Keane's comeback will be lasting and what effect it will have on his future at Manchester United. He is now due to make his 'debut' in next month's friendly in Dublin against Romania - fitness permitting - before playing against the Netherlands in Amsterdam the following week.

Keane was acutely aware of the sensitivity of his return and was enthusiastic about the trip, even though it is the kind of game that is usually anathema to him. He had pledged to be conciliatory and on Sunday he was the first player to report to the team hotel in Portmarnock. Keane arrived with his United team-mate John O'Shea and the pair later headed to Lansdowne Road for Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Wasps. When he returned, Keane politely declined to speak to reporters.

Kerr's compliance is undoubtedly also fuelled by the need to keep Ferguson reasonably happy. Although Keane's involvement in the Irish squad may be short-lived, both O'Shea and Liam Miller - due to join United in the summer - are essential to his plans. Both are likely to start against Poland.

Kerr also lost the Charlton captain, Matt Holland, yesterday morning, as he has a back injury and the West Ham striker, David Connolly, withdrew with a knee complaint

It means that possibly 10 players from the original squad are out and Kerr has called up the Coventry pair, Graham Barrett and Michael Doyle plus Ireland's leading domestic striker, Shelbourne's Jason Byrne.