Republic stronger with Keane

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The Independent Online

Chris Hughton, the Republic of Ireland assistant manager, believes it is time to move on now the Roy Keane circus has left town.

While Keane prepared to fly off on his holidays, the Irish squad left for London to play in the Unity Cup, where they face Nigeria today and Jamaica on Wednesday at The Valley. After that they move on to Amsterdam where they face the Netherlands in a friendly next Saturday.

Keane made his international comeback on Thursday night after a two-year exile and steered the Irish to a 1-0 win over Romania at Lansdowne Road. He is unavailable for the three matches in the week ahead, but will probably be named in the squad for the friendly at home to Croatia in August.

The reality, however, is that - with Manchester United facing a Champions' League qualifier at around the same time - Keane will not be back until the World Cup qualifying double-header at home to Cyprus and away to Switzerland in September.

A month later there is the prospect of Keane versus Patrick Vieira when the Irish go to Paris to take on France.

"It is very important that we move on now," Hughton said. "The most pleasing thing was that Roy played and played well. There was a wonderful respect from everybody towards him but the most important thing was that we got the result and it was a good team performance.

"If you forget everything that has happened in the past two years and look only at the game then I think you would say Roy gave a very influential performance, a performance of composure, a performance where he got in for two very good chances and maybe should have scored one of them. He was the driving force from midfield and that's the best way to look at it. We now need to move on from there because it is not about Roy, it is about the whole squad."

The Irish will field a strong side against Nigeria as they bid to preserve a run of just one defeat in 15 matches under Brian Kerr, although they will give some of the youngsters a chance against Jamaica on Wednesday.

Hughton added: "There is no point going into these two games without looking to the future, but also without looking to win them. We want to instill in this group of lads a winning mentality.

"We have played good opposition in recent months and there has been pressure to maintain the run, and these games will be no different, so we have to field sides who we feel are capable of getting something from these two games."

The goalscorer Matt Holland, one of the players who sided with the former manager, Mick McCarthy, when Keane was sent home from the World Cup, gave a simple verdict. "With Roy in the squad we have got a better chance of qualifying for the World Cup - that's the bottom line," said Holland. "Hopefully he can have an influence on the younger players."

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