keane at ipswich 'People were creeping around corners to see if Roy was in the canteen before going in'
The hands of Ipswich physio Matt Byard are trembling as he tries to unwrap a bandage with the words of his boss, Roy Keane, bellowing in his ears.
"Get him back on, get him back on, there's only two minutes until half-time," roars the manager.
It's January 3, 2011 and scoreless in the Championship meeting of Ipswich and Nottingham Forest. After six league defeats in eight games, the irate presence in the home dugout is under pressure and Byard is in the firing line.
Damien Delaney is the player undergoing treatment after a stray elbow created a nasty wound above his eye, yet he is feeling sympathy for Byard because of the intimidating presence of another Corkman. The decision is made to apply a temporary bandage and insert stitches at the break.
What could go wrong?
"It wasn't a bad own goal," stresses Delaney, taking up the story in the present day, unable to avoid laughter in his recall of the comical build-up.
"Matt was a nervous wreck and he bandaged my head Terry Butcher style but I remember when I went back on the pitch, the bandage was covering my left eye but it kept falling down and I was trying to push it up.
"A cross came into the box and I only had vision with one eye. If I didn't get a touch on the ball, one of their lads was going to score so I had to stretch for it."
He knew his explanation wasn't going to fly in the interval post-mortem. Delaney's relationship with his manager was fiery. A Cork thing. Keane did even concede in his autobiography that he regretted how he spoke to his compatriot.
Delaney is reluctant to dwell on it but admits that colleagues were frequently perplexed by niche Cork references dropped into the outbursts. Colin Healy was the only one who understood the barbs, allowing himself the occasional grin while staying out of eyeshot.
On this day, Delaney knew he was in for a verbal volley which is why there was relief that the physio room was detached from the dressing room with its own entrance. He was happy for Byard to take his time with the stitching.
"I could hear him going off saying 'where's that f****r'" he recalls. "Even when it was done, I was thinking to myself 'I'm not going in there.'"
He didn't realise he was dodging the final team-talk of Keane's Ipswich stay. The fact it's now a decade since he last addressed a group of players as their manager fuels the theory that Delaney's goal may become a quiz question.
There was no goodbye to an Ipswich squad who were a bit surprised by his departure even though fans had turned against him. Reclusive owner Marcus Evans kept to himself so there were no calls to senior players to gauge the mood; this is normally a part of the process.
It was a subdued end to a stormy stay and Delaney reckons the stories of Keane's East Anglian episode are the main reason he is overlooked for jobs he would crave. While his old foe Mick McCarthy lands another gig at Cardiff, Keane now earns his money as a pundit, a profession he used to hate.
His Sky billing has put him back to the forefront of football debate but few believe that his current role is what he truly wants as his 50th birthday approaches.
Ronan Murray missed the half-time debrief for different reasons. The 19-year-old from Mayo was out on the Portman Road pitch kicking the ball around with the rest of the substitutes. This was a happy time in his life; he didn't find the Keane era as bruising as some of those around him. Youngsters that had already earned a reputation found that Keane was unforgiving.
Several Ipswich players of that era have highlighted how Dubliner Owen Garvan got off on the wrong foot with Keane and never recovered and he wasn't alone.
Keane liked Murray's attitude because he kept the head down and followed instructions.
"One of the things he said in his first meetings with us (youths) was to give 100 per cent and to be on time. They were the only things he expected from us. I tried to do that. I had no experience, I was green as grass," says Murray, now a well-travelled pro waiting for clarity on the 2021 League of Ireland season.
"Just a lad that was living the dream really.
"I'm 29 now and I know what works and doesn't work. Back then, I didn't ask any questions. And that time was probably the best I ever played in my career. I took to it well because of the Irish mentality he brought to the club; it was to get stuck in, roll up your sleeves, very basic stuff that works for a lot of people."
As a scholar coming through the Ipswich ranks, Murray wasn't allowed to change with the first team even when he started to get minutes here and there. That was the culture, so he only heard second-hand versions of the fireworks that were commonplace. Not that he escaped it completely.
"He used to come in after a reserve game, a random reserve game on a cold Tuesday night in Colchester and he'd give us a rollicking and you're thinking 'Jesus Christ', but I was kinda used to them. It was kinda the same as getting a rollicking in school from a teacher you were afraid of. But it spurred me on. If there was anything directed at me, I would take it as a positive that he knew you existed."
(Keane clearly remembered him with fondness. Several years later, he turned up at a pre-season friendly between Cobh and Murray's Galway and sought out a visiting official to enquire about the whereabouts of the striker who had stayed behind at home.)
Experienced players quickly grew tired of Keane's attention. For all that Delaney and Keane clashed on a regular basis, the Irish defender was a survivor, and found himself in the side every week no matter what was said between the four walls. Other players came and went but he lasted the course and would go on to have much better days with Crystal Palace.
The high-profile appointment was initially welcomed with his stock relatively high post-Sunderland, even if tales of intense behaviour had spread within the game. Delaney has his own theory on why his 20 month stay in Ipswich was a failure by comparison.
"When he was manager of Sunderland he would sometimes only go in on a Friday before the game on Saturday. The Irish lads said it was grand because Lougho (assistant Tony Loughlan) and Antonio (Gomez - fitness coach) would take the week so there was no edge to the daily life. I think there were times he would show up at the stadium and not even at the hotel. He kept that aura, so even if he hammered them after a game they may not see him again for a few days.
"But Roy moved his family down to Ipswich. He was in at 7.0am in the morning and wouldn't leave until 5.0pm. By the time Saturday came around, we were almost sick of hearing him. When he was in the building, everyone knew it. People were creeping around corners to see if he was in the canteen before going in for a coffee."
"It was more his presence," suggests Murray. "He'd come into the room and you would be afraid there was something on your plate that you shouldn't be eating. You'd be questioning yourself. That was the thing. And he was probably just coming in for a coffee."
Then again, Murray was absent for the bulk of the tales that the older lads still speak about, the trips and the pre-season motivational techniques that exposed players to a Jekyll and Hyde personality.
One minute he might be punishing a player severely for running late to the bus. The next, condemning the squad because a sanctioned night out had failed to result in a single call to the manager about bad behaviour. His views on character and professionalism didn't always align.
Famously, he brought the squad on a training camp in an army barracks, with soldiers from the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery delivering an authentic experience. Players only learned about the exercise on the bus when they were told they had five minutes to ring their loved ones and give them the number of the CEO in case of emergencies before putting their mobile phone in a bin bag.
Hours later they were sleeping in tents, digesting the pig that was slaughtered in front of them for their evening meal. Stun grenades woke them at 4.0am for a day of punishing exercises. Some players only had ankle socks with them and lost so much skin from their feet that a specialist had to be brought into the club to treat them.
Keane even detailed aspects of the overall story in his own autobiography.
The problem for his future ambitions is that his Ipswich stay was so anecdote heavy. Delaney still believes the squad he inherited were good enough to challenge for promotion, but lost their way. Late goals killed them. And the atmosphere deteriorated in tandem with the manager's rising frustrations.
"I always thought he needed a number two that could grab him and say 'take a deep breath man," he muses. "His coaches were good people. Lougho is with Sean Dyche at Burnley now. Antonio was at Barcelona last I checked. But I think they were equally as afraid of him as the players were.
"There were plenty of games where it was 0-0 at half-time and we were doing fine and he would come in and lose the plot and we would go out and lose the second half. It was self-destructive sometimes more than anything else."
In his post-match reflections on the Forest defeat, Keane struggled to disguise his feelings.
"We would have been disappointed had it been 0-0 at half time, let alone be 1-0 down," he said. "We've taken one point from the last six but I'm convinced we deserved more. Then again, I've been saying the same thing for a year and a half."
The landmark is jarring for Delaney, who agreed to chat after being sent a screengrab of the teams and the scoreline to ask if he knew the significance of the fixture.
"I couldn't believe it when you texted it and it was ten years," he says, "Because it means he would have been 39 then, which is the age that I am now. He was 39 and he'd already had his time with us after all of that success he had with Sunderland."
Delaney doesn't give the impression he is surprised that Keane has gone through his forties without securing another number one job.
"I think TV suits him," he says. "I see pictures of him now and he looks so young. But then usually as people get older, they mellow."
He wonders aloud if that would be reflected if Keane made a return to football's front line, thus making Delaney's ill-fated afternoon less of a full stop and more of a line break. The lingering doubt is that the question will never be answered.
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