Keane's lofty ambition raises Irish expectations

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Roy Keane said yesterday that the Republic of Ireland no longer suffered from the lack of ambition that led to him walking out on the 2002 World Cup.

Roy Keane said yesterday that the Republic of Ireland no longer suffered from the lack of ambition that led to him walking out on the 2002 World Cup.

The 33-year-old claimed he did not see "any reason to be jumping in the streets, hugging and crying" following Ireland's draw in France on Saturday. Keane said "that seemed to happen before when we got a half-decent result".

He added that "a lot of things" had changed with Ireland since his bust-up with Mick McCarthy in Saipan that led to his self-imposed exile. He praised McCarthy's replacement, Brian Kerr, "and his staff", adding that the "players' ambitions also" had changed since the new manager came in last year. "I sense that in the camp," Keane said. "After the game there was satisfaction there, but we know there's a long way to go... The ambitions are definitely a lot higher than they used to be." Keane then added: "Thank God."

When asked to expand upon his comments, Keane said of previous campaigns: "I felt before that when we did qualify that was the end of it - people celebrating and relaxing too much. Things have changed."

His main allegation against McCarthy was that he regarded reaching the World Cup finals as an end in itself. Keane wanted to win the tournament and felt frustrated by what he believed was a lack of professionalism. One game sprang to mind. When Ireland drew 2-2 with the Netherlands, away, during the last campaign, it was viewed as a triumph. Keane declared it a failure as Ireland had let slip a two-goal lead.

The Manchester United captain - who finally reversed his decision to retire last spring - was speaking on the eve of tonight's Group Four qualifier against the Faroe Islands. He, along with Kevin Kilbane, was widely regarded as Ireland's best performer against the French but, typically, Keane saw it differently. "I felt I could have done better second half," he said. "I thought I was poor. Like any player I want to improve." He said he had done "OK" in the four matches since his return, adding: "I think my performances could have been better, but I contributed to the team and that's always the priority, the team. So I hope there's a lot more to come from me yet."

Keane has also been critical of his form for United and said that he still regarded it as early season. "I like to think I improve as it [the season] goes on," he said, before adding, jokingly, "I peak about May."

With less than two years left on his contract, he said: "I've got this year and next year, and a lot of people think I'm on my last legs, but I've got a bit more to give yet." Keane admitted he had considered the effect that playing again for Ireland would have on his career. "Obviously, it was something I had to take into the equation," he said. "But it was something that I wanted to do and I feel it's been the right decision. I've enjoyed coming back and I feel I've contributed to United and Ireland 100 per cent." The "squad rotation" at United had helped, as had yoga and his ability to pace himself more, "easing up" in training to allow his body to recuperate.

As part of that process he has recovered from a sore knee, and Kerr confirmed he would field his strongest squad against the Faroes, 135th in the Fifa rankings and with no full-time players in their squad. The only doubt is on the right of midfield. Andy Reid, with a twisted ankle, is rated doubtful, but Kerr has plenty of options. On Keane, Kerr described his return as "crucial". "It's obvious what he adds," Kerr said. "Experience, knowledge, understanding." And honesty.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable, 4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien (all Newcastle United), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Shea (Manchester United); Reid (Nottingham Forest), Kilbane (Everton), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Duff (Chelsea); Doherty (Norwich City), Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur).

FAROE ISLANDS (probable, 4-4-2): Mikkelsen (Kl Klaksvik); Thorsteinsson, Johannesen (both TB Tvoroyri), J Jacobsen (Frem BK), Olsen (GI Gota); Borg (HB Torshavn), Johnsson (IA Akranes), Benjaminsen (Fram), R Jacobsen (HB Torshavn); Frederiksberg (Skala IF), Petersen (B36 Torshavn).

Referee: R Lajuks (Latvia).