Roy Keane’s second autobiography is full of some brilliant, interesting stories.
One of the more eye-catching opinions from the book relates to the concept of national identity and British-born players of Irish descent playing for the Republic of Ireland.
Despite walking away from the World Cup in 2002 – or, being sent home according to some parties – Keane was immensely proud of his Cork roots and playing for Ireland. As such, the idea of someone declaring for Ireland as a “career move” bothered him.
He cites John Aldridge as an example of an Ireland player born in England who had genuine affection for the country and “gave as much to Ireland as any Irish-born player.” But Keane took issue with British-born players of Irish descent playing for the national team without, in his opinion, harbouring any “warmth” for the country.
“I’ve never been against players who weren’t born in Ireland playing for the country,” the former Manchester United captain said.
“If they want to come on board and they qualify, then great, as long as they’ve a feel for it. I think, in the past, there were one or two players who probably declared for Ireland as a career move – and I can understand that, too.
“They did well for the country, but I look at some of them now and I wonder if they’ve been back to Ireland since. So I think the attitude should be, ‘Listen, if you’re going to come on board, get a feel for it – have a warmth for the country but don’t just do it as a pure career move’.”
Keane goes on to admit that the concept of national identity is a complicated one and uses the case of Matt Holland as an example of this. Holland was born in Bury in England and qualified for Ireland through his grandmother, who was born in County Monaghan.
The former Ipswich Town captain played 49 times for Ireland and scored five times – including goals against Portugal in qualification for the 2002 World Cup and against Cameroon at the tournament.
Yet, according to Keane, Holland was “as English as David Beckham” and some Ireland players spotted him sing the English national anthem ahead of a match at Wembley. Keane said this led to some jokes at Holland’s expense when the Ireland squad met up. Yet, it didn’t appear to sit right with the then-Ireland captain.
“Love of a country is a hard thing to measure,” he said.
“But if you see a player on the TV who played for Ireland, singing ‘God Save the Queen’ in a play-off final, you might just say, ‘Oh, right. Maybe he’s not really all that Irish’. Matty Holland would be an example. For me, Matty is as English as David Beckham. He played for Ireland and he obviously has the roots.
“But he played for Ipswich in a play-off final, in 2000, and he was singing ‘God Save the Queen’ at the top of his voice. I don’t think he could have sung it any louder. Some of the other Irish lads saw him, too, so at the next couple of international matches we were going, ‘Turn that rebel music up a bit’.”
Damien Duff, who played alongside Keane and Holland for Ireland, also spoke about an Ireland player who sang the English national anthem ahead of a game, saying he and the other players “caught him rapid.” He wouldn’t reveal the identity of the player, but it appears to be Holland.
“I won’t name any names, here, but I used to play with a player – for 40 or 50 caps he was with me – and I remember we all caught him rapid singing the English national anthem,” he said on RTÉ in 2018.
“Did we have a problem with it? Yeah, but I still wouldn’t change it because he brought a lot to the Irish team for, I dunno, five, six, seven, eight years.”
However, Duff, who will be an Ireland coach under Stephen Kenny, stated that, in his opinion, the most important thing was that Holland played well for Ireland.
“You won’t get the name out of me. But he obviously wanted to play for England, he played for Ireland, and he brought an awful lot of happiness to our country.”
Holland stated that he was fully committed to Ireland and was hurt by Keane’s comments. “I was committed to Ireland, full stop,” he said. “Every single game, I gave everything I had. For someone to question that commitment is disappointing.”
It is possible that, as Duff and Holland said, a player’s commitment should be the only consideration? Or, as Keane said, maybe it is peculiar to play for Ireland while singing the English national anthem. Or maybe it’s possible to feel to both Irish and English.
Stephen Kenny made an interesting comment when being unveiled as the new Republic of Ireland manager.
Kenny said that he “isn’t in the business of persuading people to be Irish.” The former Dundalk coach vowed not to spend his time as Ireland boss scrambling for English players of Irish descent to declare for the national team.
Yes, he would welcome British-born players of Irish descent who had a genuine attachment to the country. But the days of chasing English players with tenuous links to Ireland would not continue under him.
“I’m not in the business of persuading people to be Irish.”https://t.co/9YxlYC8Qw2
— Pundit Arena Football (@PAFootball_) April 16, 2020
Kenny’s comments are to be welcomed. They also raise some complicated questions for the new manager.
How can he measure a player’s love for the country? Should it matter if a player feels genuinely Irish as long as they are committed? And should the manager pursue players who, if they could, would prefer to play for their native country? The example of Matt Holland shows these aren’t easy questions to answer.