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New Ireland duo O’Neill and Keane a match made in Tinseltown

Dynamic between new coach and assistant could best be described in terms of a buddy-cop movie

New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, right, and his assistant Roy Keane would not look out of place in a buddy-cop movie. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
New Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, right, and his assistant Roy Keane would not look out of place in a buddy-cop movie. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

What a shame for Irish football fans that the unveiling of a new international management team should become instantly embroiled in that age-old controversy over “identity”.

At least for Cork-born Roy Keane, the new assistant coach, there are no question marks. He is certifiably the genuine article.

But for new gaffer Martin O’Neill, who was born in Northern Ireland, there will always be a few blinkered diehards who say that a man of his background can talk the talk but never truly walk the walk.

The complex identity to which I refer is, of course, the title of “bad cop”. Why, what did you think I meant?

When the O’Neill-Keane partnership was announced this week, it was immediately labelled among fans and media alike as a classic “good cop, bad cop” relationship.

That sounded reasonable to me. When a player erred, he could expect a friendly arm around the shoulder and some wise counsel from the kindly, bespectacled O’Neill, the detective chief inspector.

Meanwhile, in his peripheral vision, the young miscreant would be acutely aware of a wild-eyed and unshaven man removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves.

“Oh, don’t worry about Sergeant Keane,” DCI O’Neill would chuckle. “He just gets very … impatient with supposed holding midfielders who fail to track back when the opposition are in possession. But you’re not going to do that again, son. Are you?”

O’Neill, however, scotched these rumours before you could say “Danny Glover”.

“I think I’m the bad cop and he [Keane] is the bad, bad cop,” the former Sunderland coach said. By which I mean the good – or possibly bad – former Sunderland coach, not the definitely bad – possibly even bad, bad – one.

Do you see the confusion that this is causing already? What a mess.

After such a long barren spell under Giovanni Trapattoni – who was neither good or bad cop but more elderly traffic warden – Irish fans have a right to know precisely which type of Hollywood movie law-enforcement partnership best encapsulates the new team’s working relationship.

The Irish Football Association has a duty to clarify the situation, ideally with a reference to a specific film.

For example, should the fans be thinking along Lethal Weapon lines? O’Neill could certainly drop into the Roger Murtaugh role of being dry, cynical and semi-retired. But Keane as Martin Riggs? Surely suicidal people are supposed to want to kill themselves, not everyone else.

Bad Boys – or, given both men’s history with Glasgow Celtic, Bad Bhoys – provides another workable model: with O’Neill as the wisecracking Mike Lowrey and Keane the more stoic Marcus Burnett. However, this relationship is based on friendship, a concept with which Keane has always struggled.

Point Break could be our answer, with O’Neill as the ostracised veteran Angelo Pappas and Keane as the athletic young Johnny Utah.

However, it seems unlikely that Keane could ever fall under the influence of an older, charismatic chancer, as Utah did with Bodhi. For details, see Mick McCarthy.

Ultimately, it seems the Irish FA is looking for a film in which an older and essentially benign cop, although one who is willing to bend the rules, is paired with a destructive and powerful yet also wily and fiercely loyal partner.

The answer is pretty obvious, really, though I do not envy the man who has to tell Keane that he is the Hooch to O’Neill’s Turner.