Kerr speculation hampers Irish build-up

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The Independent Football

Kerr's future has become a major distraction to preparations to such an extent that the midfielder Steven Reid was moved to reveal that it has filtered through to the players.

"Brian has done a great job, and you feel for him at times like these," Reid said, before also claiming that he and his team-mates "don't really read" what has been said and written about the manager.

That may well be the case but Reid's assertion that Kerr has been a success is not one that is shared by the Football Association of Ireland. The organisation has rebuffed all attempts by Kerr and his advisers to talk about a new contract, a process that has gone on for some months.

Officials have also spoken, privately, about their misgivings over Kerr, who has cancelled two scheduled media briefings this week, and his methods. Indeed, it is now certain that he will be sacked if Ireland do not at least reach the play-offs - a situation that will be tested severely on Saturday against the Cypriots.

The island has been a happy hunting ground for the Irish, who have won on their previous two visits for World Cup ties, including the Roy Keane-inspired 4-0 victory in 2001. That win was not, however, as flattering as the scoreline suggests and Ireland also know they will have to perform this time without their former captain, who is suspended as well as injured.

That previous tie also became known for Keane's outburst over the Irish training facilities - an incident that acted as a precursor to his walk-out in Saipan the following year, citing the same reason. Then Keane, who will rebuff attempts by the FAI to install him as manager if Kerr is sacked, was replaced in the squad by Reid who went on to make two substitute appearances.

"It was thrust on me pretty quickly," Reid said "but hopefully it was not a once in a lifetime experience." The Blackburn Rovers midfielder, or Wigan Athletic's Graham Kavanagh, is likely to step into the breach this time round as well.

Keane is not the only one missing. Also suspended, although they will return for the final game against Switzerland next week, are Clinton Morrison and Andy Reid, while Gary Breen has pulled out with a calf injury. Better news has come with Steve Finnan, another doubt, making the plane while Stephen Carr has joined up with the squad after being excused training because of a family bereavement.

Reid said that the players had regarded the criticism they faced after losing at home to France in their last qualifier, which has made winning Group Four virtually impossible, as "unfair". "The result did not help but I think we can take a lot of heart from the performance," Reid claimed.

Nothing less than two wins will do now. "I think we will be devastated if we don't get a result," Reid said. "Personally, the World Cup experience was unbelievable and not only about winning matches. For a month or so the whole focus is on playing for your country and knowing that everyone is behind you."

It is not, at present, a feeling that Kerr probably shares.