EXCLUSIVE: 'I thought one of them was going to throw a punch' - Jason McAteer on the bust up between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy in Saipan
Jason McAteer has revealed he went to face Roy Keane in his hotel room immediately after the notorious row in Saipan in 2002 — to request the return of DVDs he had lent his captain.
Lending an element of comic farce to what is probably the most controversial story in the history of Irish sport, the former Liverpool winger describes the entire acrimonious affair as “nonsense”, but admits he used the DVDs as a pretence to confront Keane and see whether he was actually intent on leaving the squad on the eve of the 2002 World Cup.
The then Irish captain, however, had no interest in talking to McAteer. Writing in his new autobiography Blood, Sweat and McAteer — an extract from which appears inside — the 52-times-capped Irish international states that there was genuine fear in the squad meeting room at the Saipan Hyatt Regency Hotel that the “hatred” between Keane and manager Mick McCarthy would lead to physical violence.
McAteer expresses regret that he did not interject when Keane began to rant at McCarthy over his management, and might have aired his own grievances about the Irish squad’s infamously poor preparation at that pre-World Cup camp, but he feels the Manchester United legend’s comments were so calculated that he was looking for the opportunity to air them and thereby leave the set-up.
The book also reveals that, even before the Irish camp had left for Asia, they found out some of the English squad were taking bets on whether Keane would storm out before the tournament started.
McAteer offers a detailed blow-by-blow insider’s account of the entire story, and talks about how the players noted Keane had his “war face” on right from when they were getting the connecting flight in Amsterdam for the trip from Dublin to Asia. Despite common perceptions, the former midfielder claims the entire squad — including McCarthy — were “livid” when the training gear did not arrive at the team’s temporary Saipan base on time.
There was still a good mood in the camp, with Keane himself in “cracking form” to the extent he and McAteer had what the latter describes as their first “proper conversation” when they bumped into each other in the hotel on the Monday morning and went for a walk on the beach.
“We’re talking about everything, family and football . . . God help me, but I actually think there’s a bit of mutual respect. I’ve never got that from Roy before. I’ve never felt anything other than disdain from him and that whole United-Liverpool rivalry of old. This is different. Roy wants to talk to me.”
The atmosphere worsened on the Tuesday when Keane had his bust-up with Packie Bonner and the goalkeepers, with the captain eventually going back on his first decision to go home, but he still chuckled the following morning when McAteer wondered if he was leaving and ended up having breakfast with McCarthy. Once Keane’s infamous interview was printed on the Thursday, however, the situation exploded.
Sensing there was going to be a confrontation at the squad’s hastily-called team meeting, McAteer decided to sit right beside Keane to get a “front-row seat”. McAteer describes how, as McCarthy finally brought up the interview, he had blood “rising in his veins”.
“I’m in the box seat, right next to Roy. The vein on his temple is throbbing. He’s trading insults with Mick. Tony Hickey moves between them. It looks like one of them is going to throw a punch.”
Once it finally ended with McCarthy telling his captain to “fuck off home” and Keane responding that he had his “excuse” in the event of Irish elimination, McAteer admits he never expected it to get to that point but that it seemed calculated in hindsight.
“It was almost like he wanted Mick to make a big deal of it in front of the lads and give him an excuse to get out of Dodge.”
McAteer reveals he resents the idea that Keane got Ireland to the World Cup “on his own” and that he wanted to confront Keane about some of his comments — and get his DVDs back.
“I want to have it out with Roy. I do go to his room with the idea of getting back some DVDs I’d lent him but my real motive is to see if Roy is really serious about going home. I get to his room and knock and he answers the door quickly. I can see Mick Byrne just inside the room. I ask for my DVDs back but it’s obvious that Roy doesn’t want to have a conversation with me so I leave them to it.
“Now we have a World Cup to play without one of the best midfielders in the world. And no DVDs!”
Sunday Indo Sport