Martin O’Neill says Roy Keane ready to ‘reconcile’ with Harry Arter after row

By Liam Mackey

Martin O’Neill has said that Roy Keane is ready to have a “reconciliation” with Harry Arter.

The manager made the remark at the end of a pre-match press conference in Wroclaw which only briefly touched on tonight’s friendly against Poland, as the media exchanges were dominated by the fallout from the leaking earlier in the day of a private WhatsApp audio message in which Stephen Ward can be heard giving an explosive account of Keane’s row with Arter and Jon Walters in the Irish camp at the time of the May and June friendlies.

O’Neill prefaced his comments yesterday by pointing out that Ward, who was out of the squad injured at the time, was not a first-hand witness to the scenes he described and, when asked if the player’s version tallied with the one given to him by his assistant manager, the manager replied, “no… it doesn’t tally.”

However, having never disputed that a verbal altercation did indeed take place, O’Neill revealed: “I think there might be a bit of a reconciliation between Roy and Harry. Certainly Roy is up for that.”

Speaking last week, O’Neill had said of Keane: “Sometimes he does give out rollickings and there have been times when he’s come to me and said, ‘I went overboard there, I’ll have a word with the lad’ — and he does.

Asked yesterday if that was also a fair summation of what has happened in his row with Arter and whether Keane feels he needs to apologise to the Cardiff City player, O’Neill answered: “Yeah, it’s a fair summation of it. I think a reconciliation is a possibility. You phrased it brilliantly. I am not absolutely and utterly convinced about my answer but I think it could happen and if it doesn’t… but I genuinely do think that it can happen.

Certainly Roy is up for it and the point you make is reasonably valid.

O’Neill insisted that the buck stops with him for everything that happens under his watch as Ireland manager — including the actions of his assistant.

“If you’re asking about Roy’s criticism of players, let me tell you this is my responsibility, totally my responsibility, absolutely and utterly,” he said.

“Absolutely my responsibility. And if I thought something was seriously and utterly out of hand that was going to cause ferocious consternation in the camp, I would look at it regardless of who it was.

Responsibility is mine. I don’t want to be turning around saying ‘I am the manager’ but I am the manager. And I’ve managed pretty successfully for quite a number of years.

“Every single kick players make, every save that is made, every corner that is conceded, every goal that is scored is my responsibility, so I’ll take full responsibility for what has happened in this camp.

“In my time as a manager, I’ve chosen two brilliant, brilliant assistant managers, two characters, two world-class players: John Robertson and the young man himself, Roy Keane. They’re different, but at the end of it all, none of them have ever let me down. John Robertson criticised players; Roy has a different way. I take the responsibility for it at the end of the day because that’s my job.”

Describing the controversy as “an absolute sideshow”, O’Neill said: “These two confrontations took place four months ago, are surfacing now, and we are going through all of that. And, you know what? I will be astonished if there is not a confrontation between now and November time. If there is not, I’ll start it myself (smiles).”

In fact, O’Neill went on to say that he and David Meyler had exchanged words in the aftermath of the 4-1 defeat to Wales last week, a game in which the Corkman didn’t feature.

He didn’t train brilliantly the next day, and he’s a very, very good trainer and I have the utmost regard for him, but he didn’t train well,” explained the manager. “When I asked him, he said he was disappointed at being left out of the team and I said, ‘you have to do a wee bit more at club level — look at your form at club level’. That was my thought to him at the time.

Meyler, sitting next to O’Neill at yesterday’s press conference, agreed.

“I was frustrated that I hadn’t played, the manager is correct in what he said. I hadn’t trained brilliantly. My emotions were sky high, with the manner in which the game was and not playing. First and foremost you’re a fan of your country’s team and they are all my friends playing.

“It’s disappointing and obviously I don’t want to hear Wales go on about it, after our victory 10 months previous. The manager said some things to me, yeah, but first and foremost you do have to look at yourself in the mirror.

Is my club form good enough? No. Are Reading in a bad situation? Yes, they are. First and foremost I need to address myself which I respect. He was right. At the time I was upset and annoyed.

O’Neill also took the opportunity to reiterate his insistence that the upheaval in the summer had had no impact on Declan Rice’s decision to take time out to ponder his international future. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Total and utter confirmation on that.”

All of which leaves us all where?

Despite O’Neill’s protestations, the rumbles behind the scenes in the Irish camp have indeed become the main event, with tonight’s friendly against Poland the matter which has been relegated to the status of sideshow, at least in the popular mind.

Yet, paradoxically, it is a game now freighted with more significance than it would ordinarily have.

The Nations League was designed to do away with meaningless friendlies but, on the back of two crushing competitive defeats in a row, Ireland’s performance in Wroclaw this evening — even if hamstrung in advance by Seamus Coleman becoming only the latest to join an extensive injured list — will now be viewed entirely against the backdrop of growing disenchantment with what has been happening on the pitch and deepening concern at a succession of bad news headlines off it.

In the context of discussing the Keane-Arter-Walters row, O’Neill yesterday referenced some of the “industrial heavy duty” language which is part of football’s vernacular, or certainly was in his heyday as a player.

But even if Stephen Ward’s account of what took place in the summer is only one person’s second-hand version, and not necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it still paints a disturbing picture of personal abuse allegedly being heaped on a squad member in a manner which, by any standards, is simply unacceptable.

Whether Keane and Arter can break bread together is debatable but, whatever happens on that front, football being football, it will probably be results on the pitch which will ultimately decide if the O’Neill-Keane management team has a future with Ireland beyond the coming weeks and months.

Tonight, the most Ireland can hope for, you suspect, is some kind of temporary reprieve from the gathering storm. And, all things considered, even that might be hard to achieve in Wroclaw.

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