As a boy, I idolised Roy Keane. Not the Roy Keane who stamped on people or kicked people for the heck of it. But the Keano who played each and every game of football, covered each blade of grass over ninety minutes as if his life depended on it. That was the athlete whom I admired most as a child. There was a conviction, you could see it in his eyes. An innate and uncommon sense of desire, he seemed to take everything with the utmost seriousness and at the same time appeared completely oblivious to the approval of others.
His public perception has become a little warmer in recent years, with people choosing to see him less as an unreasonable hothead and more as a grumpy but well-intentioned character incapable of controlling his own driving passions. Amongst all the controversy, be it over walking out on the Irish football team or any of his fallouts at Manchester United, there has existed a stark contrast between the fearsome character who stares down opponents with the rush of pure adrenaline and the softie who campaigns for dogs for the blind as well as caring for his family.
And yet, there is a sense of normalcy in all this. A man should give his all when at work. Part of the reason why Catholics venerate St. Joseph is his work as a carpenter. But there is another reason why the husband of Mary is honoured, it is as a paternal figure, a man of faith and good standing. Keane has always emphasised the importance of his family and from the firm and tender but infrequent public remarks that he has made about them, we can surmise that he possesses the ability to separate work from home life. An important value for any man.
So where does his faith come into this? Besides these old fashioned cultural views, which many irreligious Irish men share, there is in Keane a practical everyman approach to matters of faith and life itself. Where many British or American analysts might term it 'working class' or 'blue-collar' to harbour a humorous but intense attitude to working life, to base one's life around one's family or to seem completely uncomfortable with the excesses of fame and fortune, Irish people simply see such avowed apathy towards the careerism and 'Protestant work ethic' of their neighbours as a natural way of life. Catholic nations work to live, not live to work. Roy Keane has repeatedly stated that he feels as though the great questions in life, the pivotal points regarding where he will go as an individual are determined not by his own will and determination, but by a force greater than he.
The battles that he has had with authority have often been with men who would make many grown footballers quiver. Overbearing characters like Patrick Viera, Alex Ferguson and Mick McCarthy. And yet Keane seems to have an engrained notion that none of these men have an authority to inflict any sort of injustice on him. He is correct. Whoever bows before God can stand before any man. Keane has been defiant, if a little reclusive about his faith in Our Lord in the past. “I believe the man upstairs has a plan for me. I believe everything is in his hands. It’s a gut feeling. Someone is in control of my destiny and it is not me.” God never asks more than a man can tolerate. Keane seems genuinely grateful for the riches in both talent and wealth afforded to him. “I do not go around making out that I’m some sort of Holy Joe but he's always looked after me”.
Control. Destiny. It is as if the full raft of angels have protected this man, a former heavy drinker, from all sorts of dangers to himself and he knows it. The man who says that he has forgotten the past and 'count his blessings' everyday, has become a feelgood story in a sport where there is none. After walking out on Ireland at the 2002 World Cup, he has now patched things up and is flourishing in his new role as assistant manager to the national team.
During that dark period, where Bertie Ahern even offered to act as mediator, Keane was public enemy number one. His first autobiography detailed the feelings that he had around it. He gave two striking examples in his mind regarding what he drew strength from. One, was watching the Will Smith movie Ali. From this he saw a resemblance between the battles Ali had to face with a hostile nation that cared little for his convictions or pursuit of justice. From Keane's perspective, this mistreatment was similar to that of what he was enduring. The second source of his resolve was contained in something that no doubt harked back to his boyhood faith in Ireland. Since it is unlikely that he attended Sunday Mass each week (he was a young man earning a fortune in a foreign country post-Vatican II) it is likely that like many of his countrymen he stored his faith in other ways, like the cross tattooed on his arm or blessing himself before he went on the pitch. In this particular instance, it was the many mass cards that were sent to him, mostly by elderly people back in Ireland. The grace of a mass being said in his cause, petty as it seemed then, petty as he says it is to him now, most nonetheless have been a touching moment for someone who left home so young.
Despite Vatican II driving away so many of our young men, who fled the effeminate and apologetic nature of their approach to life, there exists a recognition within the traditional faith that authentic Catholicism is masculine and mysterious. For footballers, what they lack in theological understanding and knowledge of prayers, they compensate for with the surge of the heart that St. Therese of Lisieux spoke of when she described authentic prayer as intuitive and heartfelt. We pray that in our lifetime the hearts of Catholic family men like Roy Keane may be reconciled with clergy who take the faith and education of their flock as seriously as Keane took his life's work.
Fail to prepare, prepare the fail. It should be written on the door of every seminary until it sticks.