News story of the week has to be the shock appointment of Roy Keane as Republic of Ireland Assistant Football Manager. Martin O’Neill’s new role as boss was by and large expected and welcomed. Initially I thought the Roy Keane element of the story was simply a joke but as soon as established media outlets confirmed his appointment I’ve come to one conclusion: If Roy Keane can accept a job working for the organisation he has strongly criticised since 2002 then world peace is around the corner.
Once again the country is divided into the pro-Roy and anti-Roy camps in the same way the country was eleven years ago. Whether or not the Bad Cop-Bad, Bad Cop managerial combination as O’Neill termed it will be a success remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure. Roy Keane’s presence near a blade of grass gets people talking, not just in Ireland and the UK but around the world, and this is good for Irish tourism.
Ireland is a small country with little international influence politically or economically. But when it comes to sporting and cultural icons we punch well above our weight and from what I’ve experienced it is these icons that raise Ireland’s profile abroad. Nobody on my travels has been able to recall the name of any Taoiseach or Irish historic figure but yet can identify the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Steve Collins and Sonia O’Sullivan. But of all our sporting figures Roy Keane is the most recognised and revered abroad. Soccer is a language spoken in every country and I’m often asked to translate the Saipan episode which is up there with Maradona’s Hand of God and Zidane’s 2006 headbutt as one of the most talked about World Cup stories ever. Coverage of Keane’s appointment this week hit the headlines worldwide and was a welcome break from years of negative economic stories emanating from this country. Keane approaches football with passion which usually brings drama – just ask Alf-Inge Haaland. And it’s this drama and passion which puts bums on seats, fills a referee’s notebook, sells replica jerseys and hopefully will encourage more away supporters and sports fans in general to visit Ireland.
Keane is a divisive figure, seen by some as a misunderstood but gifted professional who just needs to chill-out now and again. Others see him as a cantankerous so-and-so whose questioning of authority is perceived as self-centred petulance. Keane’s attention to detail and drive for perfection seem to only highlight the mediocrity of the sure-‘twill-be-grand establishment so prevalent in Ireland. And maybe it’s this mediocrity and lack of attention to detail which sees Ireland’s failure to attract repeat tourists: Only 35% of tourists are repeat visitors to Ireland in comparison to Spain where 83% of tourists are on a repeat visit1. Clearly something is turning tourists off and perhaps we need to channel our inner Roy to identify the problem. I’d start with the confusing and inadequate external signage for public transport at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1. Dublin Airport is the number one port of entry into Ireland with arrivals through the airport accounting for almost 70% of bed nights spent by overseas holidaymakers along the western seaboard in 20102. First impressions last. And if we fail to prepare adequate information for our visitors, then we must prepare to fail to see them again, as Bad, Bad Cop might say.
© Hazel Joy 2013