Martin O'Neill hails 'inspirational' assistant Roy Keane

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (left) and assistant Roy Keane
Damian Spellman

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has admitted he could not ask any more of assistant Roy Keane.

O'Neill catapulted the nation firmly into the headlines when he invited the former Ireland and Manchester United captain, who 11 years earlier had left the World Cup squad in the Far East after a spectacular fall-out with then boss Mick McCarthy, to be his number two back in November 2013.

Four years on, the pair are battling to guide their team to the finals of a second successive major tournament, and the manager believes his decision has been fully justified.

He said: "Roy has been everything I expected of him when I chose him as the assistant manager. I didn't pretend to know him that well - we had worked together on some programmes before that.

"But he is everything that I expected of him and more besides, an inspirational figure on the field, as he was, a hero to a lot of players who are in the squad at this moment and a big figure, not just for Irish football, but for world football.

"All of those things, he has continued to bring and I couldn't ask any more of him."

Keane's sometimes unwitting capacity to find himself the centre of attention struck once again ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier against Moldova when Rory McIlroy revealed the former midfielder had once refused him an autograph - a snub the golfer admits has stuck with him.

But Keane's motivational powers may have to be put to good use over the next few days with Ireland facing a do-or-die double-header against the Moldovans and Wales with their qualification hopes at stake.

However, midfielder David Meyler insists the players know exactly what is at stake regardless of any inspirational words they may hear from O'Neill's assistant.

He said: "He was captain of Manchester United and Ireland for a long time, he's a winner. When he's in the changing room, he's inspiring us to go out and win. Our target in every game is to go out and win the game.

"You couldn't specifically pick one game where he has said one certain thing, every game is the exact same, and that goes for the manager. They encourage us to go out and perform and once we cross that white line, it's down to the players to perform.

"They can only do so much. We are well prepared, we have looked at Moldova all week and it's up to us now to go out tomorrow night and get the right result."

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