"The balls have arrived, and the kits arrived, so they are bound to win." Roy Keane can laugh now at the events of 10 years ago, when the Republic of Ireland's disorganisation prompted his infamous walk-out from the team's Saipan training base before the 2002 World Cup, but the jokes hide a serious point.
While Keane is not interested in reviewing ancient history in any detail – "you don't want to go there, I've a train to get in five hours," he says – the legacy of his fall-out is a better-prepared Irish team. This is their first tournament since South Korea and, said Keane, "The feedback is there is lots learned and they will be as well prepared as a lot of the teams out there. Their base is in a lovely spot and I think Trap [manager Giovanni Trapattoni] will be well organised".
The build-up has seen Trapattoni guarding against boredom. After beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in their Dublin send-off, Ireland had a warm-up camp in Trapattoni's native Italy where sightseeing in Florence and visiting Montecatini's cafes was on the agenda with training. A 0-0 friendly in Hungary on Monday followed before Ireland moved into their tournament base in Sopot, a beach resort near Gdansk where they play Spain on 14 June.
That match, and the concluding game against Italy, are the glamour fixtures but it is the opening game, against Croatia in Poznan on Sunday, which Keane sees as key. "They have to get something. If you go to the second game against Spain without a point it will be very, very difficult. Croatia will be feeling the same, that this will be the best game for them to start with, but while Croatia are technically very, very good, they are not Spain.
"Believe it or not, in Ireland the expectation is that they will get out of the group. I'm being a bit more realistic and I think it will be very difficult. The big problem for Ireland is that possession generally wins you football matches and Ireland do not retain the ball well enough to sustain decent results. Technically they will be well behind the three teams they are playing. But what you might find with Ireland, which they have done in all major tournaments in which they have qualified, is that they get that one big result. They are not bad at set-pieces. That may be their only hope."
That and James McClean, the Sunderland winger who Keane feels could be their surprise package. "He's a good player, and the other teams won't have seen too much of him. He's a big strong boy, he can get you goals, he's a threat. If he can bring his club form to the team he can get in that starting XI."
Keane concluded: "They will have a good go as all Irish teams do. Ireland always bring something different to a tournament, they have the spirit and the supporters, that gives you a chance."Reuse content