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CALLUM O’DOWDA said after Tuesday’s draw against Poland that the latest Roy Keane saga did not affect the Republic of Ireland squad one bit as they attempted to bounce back from their horror show in Wales.
The Ireland assistant manager hit the headlines once again on the eve of the 1-1 friendly when a recording of full-back Stephen Ward outlining a version of a training ground altercation between Keane and Harry Arter and Jonathan Walters during the summer was made public.
Manager Martin O’Neill found himself — and not for the first time — having to defend his No 2 while at the same time attempting to repair the damage of a chastening 4-1 defeat in Cardiff, although he need not have worried about the impact on his players.
Asked how difficult that had been, 23-year-old Bristol City midfielder O’Dowda said: “No, I don’t think that’s had an impact at all.
“The only thing I can comment on is our togetherness. No-one sees it from outside the group, but I’ll tell you what, the togetherness we have in the group is pretty brilliant.
“Since I came into the squad, I didn’t think it would be as good as it is.”
O’Dowda’s assertion was certainly backed up by the evidence on the pitch as Ireland turned in a hugely improved performance despite O’Neill being without the majority of his regular starters.
They were initially organised and hard-working and then more progressive on the break, with eye-catching performances from O’Dowda and Shaun Williams in the middle and debutant Aiden O’Brien, who marked his first senior appearance for his country with a well-taken 53rd-minute goal.
Ultimately, they had to settle for a draw when Leeds midfielder Mateusz Klich came off the bench to level with three minutes remaining, but there were significant positives to take.
Asked if the display would quieten the noise surrounding the camp with O’Neill’s tenure and support for Keane having been questioned in some quarters, O’Dowda said: “I don’t know about the noise because I don’t really look at social media at all.
“All I know is that in the Wales game, we knew we should have done a lot better and that was a very frustrating night. I feel like we did let a lot of people down.
“But tonight, although it was a draw, it was definitely a better performance. We are very disappointed, actually. I thought we deserved the win.
“But defensively, we were very good tonight and there was a massive improvement from the Wales game. That’s a bit more what we’re about.”
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