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06th Dec 2021

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton on Roy Keane’s team chat before England match

Patrick McCarry

Roy Keane

“We could have sat there all night listening to him.”

Roy Keane and Johnny Sexton have a lot in common. Two driven leaders that demand the best of those around them, and get under the skin of the opposition, and a few referees.

Keane is a big rugby fan and spent a week with the All Blacks, in 2008, when he was training for his football coaching badges. He was in attendance at the Aviva Stadium, last month, when Ireland beat the All Blacks for only the third time in their history.

In 2019, he was invited in by the England rugby team to address the squad before they set off to the World Cup, in Japan. He recently recalled that England captain Owen Farrell had asked him, after his Q&A session, for advice on leadership.

“I gave him the advice I would give anybody who is trying to lead – Be a decent human being, be on top of your own game and don’t be an arsehole.

In an interview previewing the 2021/22 Champions Cup, and Leinster’s upcoming clash with Bath, Johnny Sexton spoke about Keane coming in for a talk with the Ireland squad.

Roy Keane pictured at a Premier League match between Burnley and Manchester City at Turf Moor, in 2019. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

‘A brilliant couple of hours with Roy Keane’

“We had Roy Keane with us ourselves probably 18 months ago before we played England at Twickenham,” Johnny Sexton commented.

“We lost, so he didn’t have that big of an impact on us, but it was a brilliant couple of hours with him.

“He was incredibly generous with his time and his stories, but I was actually delegated to ask him questions on the night. I asked him one question and he spoke for two hours, so I was doing my best job, writing questions all week.

“I was researching and searching different avenues that I could probe him on and I asked one question and lads slagged the arse off me! But yeah, it was very special from that point of view.”

“I think [my first question] was that good that he was worried about what else was coming,” Sexton remarked. “So, he was just very, very smart in how he spoke for two hours because he knew there were brilliant questions coming!”

Johnny Sexton celebrates a Champions Cup semi-final win over Toulouse. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Johnny Sexton on Keane’s ‘simple but brilliant’ advice

Sexton is a Manchester United supporter and grew up watching Keane as captain, and lifting trophies for the club. It is clear that the talk made an impact on the Leinster and Ireland star.

“It was probably very surreal sitting there listening to him,” he added.

“He was very, very open with us. We asked him about different things about leadership, and about team culture and environments. We probably didn’t get the answers we thought we were going to get.

“What it came back to was… What he boiled down to was: effort, hard work, turning up day in, day out. He gave us very simple answers, but brilliant answers all the same.

“You sometimes get speakers in and they’ve got buzzwords and they talk about lots, but with him, it was just getting to the point. He wasn’t mad about all the talk about leadership groups and all this stuff, he was more saying that when he was at [Manchester] United, he just had good people around him and that drove standards. And they probably didn’t even know they were doing it.

“But it was a brilliant couple of hours. We could have sat there all night listening to him. And it’s the same when you watch him on TV now: you can’t turn him off when he’s on the screen.”

Leinster take on Bath at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday afternoon, as they take the first step on what they hope will end with winning their fifth European Cup, next summer.