Roy Keane: Kevin Kilbane on "a whole different ball game"

By Kevin KilbaneBBC football pundit
Football Focus: Watch the Roy Keane interview in full

You just can't keep Roy Keane out of the news at the moment and this week I was tasked with interviewing him face-to-face for Football Focus.

I played alongside him with our country, the Republic of Ireland, for almost a decade and watched him drag us through some games when he was at the height of his powers and one of the best midfielders in the world.

He is a man who didn't just demand your best - he expected it. Roy did have a caring side too though, but perhaps he was a bit milder back then.

Since my move into the media a couple of years ago, I've interviewed plenty of my former Ireland team-mates. And I've always gone in with a set of questions and ideas and double-checked any stats I'm likely to throw their way.

Kevin Kilbane & Roy Keane
Midfielders Kevin Kilbane and Roy Keane regularly lined up for Ireland together between 1997 and 2005

But going along to Shay Given's house, or popping into Everton's training ground to catch up with Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy or Aiden McGeady always felt like a chat with old mates. We just had cameras and Dictaphones for company.

I'm sure they won't mind me saying that interviewing Roy Keane is a whole different ball game. He's just different.

It may have got my foot in the door but even though we were team-mates for so long, and I'd been granted an interview with him to publicise his new book, our past relationship meant nothing. Though I wasn't daunted by it.

I felt quite calm before we sat down at the Aviva Stadium, the site of the old Lansdowne Road where we had played many times together wearing that famous green shirt. I knew it would be a different interview and realised that even more as we spoke.

Kind Keane encouraged young Kilbane
"I will always remember he was there for me at the start of my international career when I was sure it was over before it had even started. When I made my debut for Ireland as a gangly teenager in Iceland, and had such a stinker that Mick McCarthy withdrew me at half-time, I didn't think I had a friend in the world, never mind a sympathetic team-mate within the squad. We went for a walk the day after the game. I could barely look up from the ground and trudged along with the others. It was Roy Keane who helped me more than anyone that day. Who talked to me about my career, my background, my hopes, dreams and ambitions? Yes, that Roy Keane."

His mood before the interview was very calm and a lot of the other journalists commented that he was in great form and having a bit of a laugh. He seemed relaxed even though he'd been interviewed constantly for two and half hours before our chat.

Although, I must admit, there were a couple of times where he was still quite scary - especially because of that bushy beard!

So how do you prepare for an interview with Roy?

Well, the preparation on his thoughts on Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't difficult. I just had to buy any newspaper.

As usual, when Roy speaks, the game listens. So this is the interview we all wanted.

But the easy lobs that you throw in for the warm-up seemed inappropriate. How do you make conversation with the man who has never done small talk?

Kevin Kilbane & Roy Keane
Kilbane (left) and Keane (right) won 177 caps for the Republic of Ireland between them

The time constraints because of Roy's extensive media commitments at Thursday's launch in Dublin took the decision out of my hands anyway.

There was no time to be nice, and Roy wouldn't respect any 'mateyness' anyway, so we got straight to it.

And where better to start than reminding him of a couple of things he'd said when we were in the Ireland squad together. He said he didn't do interviews, and if we saw him doing TV punditry to shoot him!

Roy has an answer for everything. And he didn't disappoint.

Speaking to an ex-pro who has gone into TV, he reminded me of his words in the second part of his autobiography, which has covered his own post-retirement years. Television just wasn't a challenge for him.

"I'm not doing punditry," he said. "I've said a lot of things over the years; it doesn't mean to say I'm going to stick to it.

"I wasn't working, and strangely enough I did enjoy it. I didn't feel it was a challenge. I still had a desire to get back involved, coaching or managing.

"When I had an opportunity to get back involved, I jumped at it. But I am not anti-media or anti-punditry. I'm just comfortable with what I'm doing."

Kevin Kilbane & Roy Keane
Roy Keane is currently the assistant manager of Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland

Of course the word that will forever link us is Saipan, and no recorded meeting between us could go without mentioning it.

I was sat between the manager Mick McCarthy and Roy when they had their infamous row at the 2002 World Cup, which led to Roy flying home before the tournament kicked off in Japan.

I still remember it vividly.

It's the incident which divided a nation, and still does. Roy made it clear which camp he's still comfortable in and I think he knows where I stand.

When he recalled Mick's part in his World Cup exit, his eyes seemed to change focus and the voice rose just a little.

Ah that took me back. That's the Roy we know and love.