Roy Keane maintains that if he hadn’t been accused of faking injury in order to skip playing for Ireland, he would have played at the 2002 World Cup finals.
With the 10th anniversary of Saipan just two weeks away, Keane insisted in Dublin yesterday that people still miss the point about why he walked out of the Irish camp on the eve of the finals in Japan and South Korea.
And despite his very public criticism at the time about Ireland’s preparations, Keane says that right up until the moment at that infamous team meeting when he claims Mick McCarthy accused him of feigning injury to miss the second leg play-off game against Iran — a claim the then manager has always denied — he was ready and willing to play in finals.
“Absolutely, of course,” he said yesterday. “We were packed. We were moving on to the next training camp next morning. Things were done and dusted. Obviously, I’d done an article and Mick pulled it out and said I was having a go and all that nonsense and that I should have played in the second game against Iran.
“And that was the reason I didn’t play in the World Cup, simple as that, forget about facilities because all that had been sorted out and I knew we were going on to better ones.
“I’ve never faked an injury in my life. If anything, I played with too many injuries. But people still miss the point and it’s crazy after all this time.”
However, in light of his own experiences in management, Keane also said he now had a better understanding of the pressures which he feels were also bearing down on McCarthy at the time.
“In defence of Mick, what was going on was a joke,” he said.
“If you look at any organisation going away for a major tournament, whether that be rugby or anything else, they’d have a load of people supporting the manager. I know about New Zealand rugby and they have so many people in place to get everything organised. And I know when I became a manager myself I appreciated what a hard job it is. So for Mick to have had to organise even the training grounds, you’d have to go over and have a look at them and so on. And I’m sure that was part of the build up of pressure with all of us. When you’re a manager, trying to get footballers is hard enough, without having to make sure there’s footballs and training kits there.
“There has to be another manager for that and that’s what happens in other organisations. I know it does, of course it does.”
Asked to recall the main problems which upset him in Saipan, before that fateful squad meeting, Keane replied: “Well, if you want to go back over old ground — the pitch, the fact we had no training gear, we had no medical gear... do you want me to carry on?
“And there were one or two things that went on before. I remember I had a few injuries and I missed Niall Quinn’s [testimonial] game and there was tension built up over that with one or two people and one or two of the media lads. And then [in Saipan] I had a disagreement, if you remember, with one or two of the goalkeepers because they didn’t want to train.
“Y’know, if you don’t want to train a couple of weeks before the World Cup — it doesn’t surprise me why these players didn’t win too much in their careers. And that’s not being disrespectful, that’s a fact. If you don’t want to play in a eight v eight or nine v nine training session because you’ve trained hard then, my God, what chance have you got?”
Keane also denied he’d been sent home by McCarthy.
“Mick sent me nowhere. I told him where to go. What? Do you think Mick McCarthy said to me, ‘I’m sending you home’?”
When it was put to him this is precisely what McCarthy had said at a hastily convened press conference at the time, Keane replied: “It’s not true. Was this the press conference that was done within half an hour of the private meeting? Piss-up in brewery springs to mind, but there you go.”
Keane further maintained his problems on international duty for Ireland went right back to his days as an underage player.
“Since I’ve been involved with Ireland, at 14, 15, coming up to Dublin for trials, there was plenty going on there,” he said.
“I don’t mind being told I was too small but, under 16, going away with Ireland, I was the only player not to get a game. Played against France, U16, up in Bray, one player never got on the pitch and that was me.
“There were lads under 15 getting in ahead of me. Later I was getting phone calls — when I was 20/21 and [Nottingham] Forest wouldn’t let me go for one or two friendly matches — saying that I’d never play for Ireland again. Even when I came back with Ireland, I passed [FAI chief executive] John Delaney in a few hotels in Paris and he wouldn’t even say hello. Listen, obviously it takes two to tango, I know that.
“But, considering the question marks over me with Ireland, I think I played 60 odd times and when you look back on my injuries, I still think that wasn’t a bad return. And the most important thing for me is that when I did play, when I wasn’t injured or whatever, I always felt I did okay. It’s not as if I begrudgingly went out on the pitch thinking, ‘I don’t want to play’. No.
“But I was frustrated with what was going on around me. Go back to the ’94 World Cup when I was wheeled out in front of the media because of an argument [while Jack Charlton was away from camp, assistant manager Maurice Setters and Andy Townsend had an argument on the training pitch, with Townsend insisting the players were being worked too hard in blistering temperatures. Keane wasn’t involved, but a day later Charlton brought him before the media ostensibly to defuse rumours about a training ground bust-up].
“Why am I getting wheeled out by Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters because of some argument Andy Townsend had? And Jack shouting at me to come in here [to a press conference]. And I did because I was a younger player at the time. He’s saying, ‘did we have an argument?’ ‘No’. All that nonsense. Do me a favour, Jack, you know what I mean?
“So I don’t just look back on my time with Ireland and feel disappointed because of what happened in Saipan. I go back to U15, U16. When I went to Spain, the European Championships, I was the only player not to get a game. I was with the Irish U17s in Malta, and I didn’t get involved. I was actually told to get the balls behind the goals by one or two of the staff.”
Keane concluded his unhappy trip down memory lane with a smile. “Trust me, lads,” he told reporters, “there’s another book here I think.”
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