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Testing Keane

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“When I ran into some of them (Rangers fans), it was: ‘Ah you Fenian bastard’, and other such pleasantries,” wrote McCarthy. “The first time that happened to me I was a little shocked to say the least. As I drove home after my first encounter with these bigoted supporters I vowed that I’d never get involved with them if they tried to goad me — because no matter what happened I would come out of it in a bad light.
“It would be so easy to answer them with a punch, but that doesn’t sort anything out. It just makes the situation worse. Just let them live in their squalid bigotry. I was also warned that I could be picked out for special attention by some of Rangers’ most rabid fans because not only had I joined Celtic but I was now playing regularly for the Republic of Ireland and that was like a red rag to a bull with them.”
Despite all the egregious talk about his character transformations over the past few years, Keane’s reaction to those taunting teenagers in Cheshire last year seemed to indicate that turning the other cheek is still not one of his fortes.
In Glasgow however, it will soon have to be. Twelve and a half years in Manchester haven’t prepared him for this. In its fervor and passion and bile, Celtic-Rangers has more in common with Israel and Palestine than what passes for a rivalry between City and United. One is about football, the other is to do with religion and history and a whole lot more.
“Now it started — the Rangers’ fans began spitting at us,” wrote McCarthy of his experience watching an Old Firm clash from the directors’ box at Ibrox. “It was incredible. I had never seen anything like it in my life. The hate in their eyes, real hate. I thought they were going to climb over the seats and beat us to death. I don’t think I have ever been so frightened in my life at a football match.”
In case anybody forgets, McCarthy wasn’t actually a shrinking violet in his playing days. For him to be that scared is quite something and it’s a feeling echoed by Tony Cascarino, Neil Lennon and so many others through the years.
No matter how cloistered an existence Keane chooses to live in Glasgow, there will be times when his paths will cross with supporters determined to coax a response, and possibly a headline, too. From the petrol station forecourt to bringing his kids to McDonalds, he will be considered a legitimate target for effing and blinding.
Has he the emotional maturity to tolerate public abuse on a scale that forced former Celtic great Peter Grant to actually move to England in retirement for a bit of a peace?
That Keane’s biggest challenge in Scotland could come coping with that intense off-the-field spotlight says an awful lot about the footballing dimension of his decision to go North.
The man who made a name out of his apparent disdain for all things mediocre has taken a serious step down, entering one of the most mediocre leagues in western Europe. The only difference between opting for West Bromwich Albion or Everton instead of Celtic is that he’s spared himself the ignominy of returning to Old Trafford with an inferior side, and has also guaranteed himself some Champions’ League action.
The latter should provide some consolation during the many meaningless fixtures that clog up the Celtic schedule. His anticipated debut against Clyde in the Scottish Cup third round next month is typical of the genre. It will take place in their 8,000-seater shoe-box, Broadwood Stadium, and is the sort of game for which United might have rested the likes of Keane and thrown in a few squad players. The threadbare surroundings and inferior opposition will remind the Corkman he’s definitely not in Manchester anymore.
Arriving as a Republic of Ireland legend is a huge boon to any new Celtic player but it is no guarantee of anything either. In the fifty years or so since Charlie Tully and Sean Fallon were in their prime, the most successful Irish players at the club have — with the exception of Neil Lennon generally been those who came up through the ranks like Packie Bonner and hopefully, Aiden McGeady. Colin Healy and Liam Miller didn’t hang around long enough to properly impact, Paul Byrne once threatened to become great but didn’t, and Tommy Coyne had a moderate career in hoops. Tony Cascarino discovered the goodwill immediately afforded any Irish international dissipates quickly if the performances on the field don’t match expectations. Four goals in 30 games ensured he lasted just seven months.
Keane is no Cascarino, of course, and the good news for Celtic fans is he has always been at his most powerful (and combustible) when nursing a perceived or real slight. The determination to show Alex Ferguson the error of his ways should drive him on but beyond the walkover games and the Rangers’ rituals, will that be enough? Has he the legs to help Celtic against serious European sides? Will his head be writing checks his put-upon body can’t cash this time next season? If so, how long before the first blasphemer at Parkhead asks aloud why he chose to wait until his 35th year to play for the club he loved since childhood? Then again, wasn’t Spurs really the club he grew up supporting anyway?

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