By Aidan Fitzmaurice
The Republic of Ireland will hope that tonight's friendly against Scotland will signal the dawn of a new post Roy Keane era. The unseemly saga surrounding the country's former captain has dragged on since he walked out of the Irish camp before the FIFA World Cup finals last summer after a string of arguments with former manager Mick McCarthy.
Every press conference held by new manager Brian Kerr since his appointment has been dominated by questions on Keane. However, now that the Manchester United FC player has declared he is unwilling to play for his country again on medical advice, Kerr and Ireland's new coaching team will hope that the media will finally let the matter drop so Ireland can move forward.
There will be no revolution under Kerr and no major changes in the way Ireland play, although Kerr is a fan of the 4-3-3 system which served him well at youth level. However, beneath the surface Kerr is happy to bring in some ideas he put into practice in his years as manager of Ireland's youth teams from 1997 until 2003.
Emphasis on research
Kerr will place greater emphasis on research than his predecessor and is set to introduce video analysis of opposing teams as well as stressing to his players the importance of diet and aqua-aerobics. One of Kerr's first acts after his appointment was to bring in respected former Irish international Chris Hughton, now a coach at Tottenham Hotspur FC, as his assistant manager - a move which was widely applauded.
Perfectionism in preparation
Ireland's travel arrangements to the Far East last summer, the poor training facilities and the late arrival of kit and equipment were the reasons why Keane walked out on the squad. But under a man such as Kerr, who is renowned as a perfectionist in his preparation, such a situation is unlikely to develop. Indeed, while manager of Saint Patrick's Athletic FC Kerr once had a fleet of cars on hand in case the team bus broke down before a title-deciding game.
Win not essential
This level of meticulousness does not guarantee success but Kerr is certainly doing things the right way. The new manager also acknowledges that a win in Scotland is not essential, but is desirable. "
With the teams I have managed before I usually start off with a win, so I'd like to keep that going," he said. Given that Ireland have lost both of their UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifiers so far, and face important away fixtures against Georgia and Albania in the space of five days at the end of March and beginning of April, a victory would certainly improve morale.
Kerr's cause has not been aided by an injury crisis that has deepened with the withdrawals of Kenny Cunningham and Rory Delap. Steve Finnan is also a doubt, while Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Gary Kelly and Mark Kennedy are also unavailable.
Scotland in good shape
Scotland manager Berti Vogts goes into tonight's game with better news to report. Defender Steven Pressley, who has a flu bug, is his only major doubt. Meanwhile, Don Hutchison will play in attack alongside Steve Crawford after ten months out with a cruciate ligament injury.
Result 'more important'
Vogts, a German legend, celebrates a year in the Scotland job on Friday and, after a slow start, has manoeuvred his side into a sound position in EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 5, in second place behind Germany. With qualifiers against Iceland and Lithuania approaching, Vogts is keen for his side to maintain a winning habit. "
The result is now more important to me than the performance," he said.
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