Richard Sadlier: I admire Roy Keane (Footballer)
Published 30/04/2015 | 00:00
Liam Brady recently removed Roy Keane from the Good Wall on Second Captains Live. If you haven't seen the show, the Good Wall is home to an ever-changing list compiling the top 10 Irish sportspeople of all time. Niall Quinn had taken Keane down in an earlier series and former Dublin hurling manager Anthony Daly chose to remove him before that. Not everyone is sold on Keane's credentials.
While acknowledging his success with Manchester United, Brady said he didn't believe Keane's career with the Republic of Ireland merited his inclusion. Though I'm sure there are many who would agree with him, I wouldn't place him outside the top three.
Keane cannot be discussed in the context of Irish sport without mentioning Saipan. It can't be brushed over, and the reasons that caused it, if they were every fully understood, are long forgotten. These days, it's the stick to beat Keane with. It's the basis for excluding him from a list of Irish sporting greats. He walked out on his country at the time he was needed most. For some who never had the opportunity to play in a World Cup, it's an unfathomable act of pig-headedness for which he can never be forgiven.
It's extraordinary that despite qualifying for two World Cups, playing in one, and ruling Old Trafford for years, his legacy is defined by the fallout from the events on that island. Listing his achievements at Manchester United is almost irrelevant. It's probably why Brady and Quinn removed him from the Wall and it's the only reason an Irish football fan could talk him down.
One of Keane's greatest assets was his ability to win personal battles. He was a ferocious competitor. If he was better at resolving conflicts there'd be nothing to discuss.
He has achieved too much in the game for this to even be an issue, but the strength of feeling, even 13 years later, is testament to his value as a player to the Republic of Ireland at the time. No other player mattered as he did. The team wouldn't have been there had it not been for him and it would have performed better had he remained.
The debates around how differently things would have been had Keane remained include a run of results that take Ireland all the way to the semi-finals. And from there who knows? None of that matters now and it didn't matter then. He didn't play at that World Cup and that can't be changed but the hurt it caused is out of kilter with what he actually did. He deliberately engineered his own exit or was sent home by a manager who should have handled it better. Delete as applicable, but don't fall into the trap of thinking it affects his greatness.