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They came, they saw, they disappeared

As the new millennium dawned, everything looked rosy for five top sports personalities. However, as Liam Kelly reveals, everything did not quite go to plan What he achieved in Noughties 2 Prince Naseem 3 Sergio Garcia 4 David O'Leary 5 Roy Keane

THE year 2000 opened up a new decade of hope for sports personalities and teams that were at the top of their profession or on the cusp of great achievements.

Many who fitted into that category justifiably woke up optimistic and full of ambitious intent on January 1 of the Millennium Year.

By December 2009 -- and in a number of cases long before that -- the days of wine and roses had transmuted into disappointment and regret.

Hindsight is the only exact science, but cast your mind back to just a few of those on whom the gods seemed to be smiling 10 years ago.

David Duval. Remember him? The seemingly unemotional scoring machine who was for a time the World's No 1 golfer.

England's Prince Naseem Hamed appeared to have the boxing world at his feet.

Sergio Garcia was surely destined to join the ranks of Major winners.

David O'Leary, ex-Irish soccer international was playing a blinder as manager of the exciting young Leeds United team.

Roy Keane? Still a major force at Manchester United, who in January 2000 were the reigning Champions League, Premiership, and FA Cup holders.

Each of these men had been a great achiever in their respective careers in the 1990s, but did they attain the maximum potential in the following decade?

Sadly, stepping up to the next level proved beyond them.

It wasn't all necessarily their fault, as outside circumstances such as injury to Duval and Keane had a role in their careers tailing off, but no doubt each of our subjects could reflect on decisions they made that they would not repeat if given a second chance.

And that, of course, is the dreaded hindsight in action.

1 David Duval

What he achieved in Noughties

Duval, the man of no apparent emotions, wearing wraparound sunglasses, who swung his way to the heights of World No 1 golfer by 1999.

Possessed of a sound and deceptively simple swing, Duval's peak year was 2001 when he won the British Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Anne's.

By the end of '01, Duval had won 13 times on the PGA Tour, including that British Open.

What happened?

Duval was something of a fitness fanatic and that is thought to have contributed to a series of injuries (wrist, shoulder, back) that affected him in '02 and '03. He also had issues in his personal life.

Has played sporadically since then. Finished second in US Open this year, but doesn't have fully exempt status for 2010. Went to PGA Tour School and finished 90th, but will get a good number of starts in the coming season due to his 130th place on the '09 rankings, and sponsors' invitations.

What might have been

Had he maintained that form, focus and fitness of 2001, Duval would surely have won another Major or two and could have been a huge threat to Tiger Woods' dominance.

2 Prince Naseem

What he achieved in Noughties

Naseem, famed for his reckless 'hands down' style, was a great fighter who rose to fame during the 1990s. He was WBO featherweight champ from 1995 to September 2000, and WBC featherweight holder from October '99 to 2000.

What happened?

Aged 27, Hamed was unbeaten in 35 fights, but lost to Mexico's Marco Antonio Barrera in Las Vegas in April '01. Just over a year later he had his final bout.

This was against European champion Manuel Calvo for the vacant IBO Featherweight title. Hamed won, but there was criticism of his performance and pre-fight training routine.

Hamed retired shortly afterwards. In May 2005 he was involved in a serious car accident and a year later was sentenced to 15 months in jail. He got out after 16 weeks.

What might have been

Hamed had charisma, cockiness and a big punch. He was only 28 when he retired and had potentially years of good earning power left in him.

3 Sergio Garcia

What he achieved in Noughties

'El Nino' turned pro in 1999, and in his sixth tournament won the Irish Open at Druids Glen. Came into 2000 tipped as the Next Big Thing after running Tiger Woods to a shot in the '99 PGA championship.

What happened?

Nothing, compared to all that seemed possible for Garcia this time 10 years ago. Sergio has had a very good career, winning 27 tournaments and being a star of Ryder Cups, but he was tipped for greater achievements. Suffered at one stage from a tortuous, multi-waggle start to every swing, and later from putting woes when he most needed the blade to be his friend. And Padraig Harrington knocked the stuffing out of Sergio in their play-off at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie.

What might have been

If Sergio had managed to beat Harrington in '07 -- and from an Irish point of view we're glad he didn't -- perhaps Garcia would have gone on to win the '08 British Open and US PGA, as Harrington did.

4 David O'Leary

What he achieved in Noughties

O'Leary's young Leeds side -- "they're my babies" was his theme -- stormed to the UEFA Cup semi-final in 1999-2000, and they came third in the Premiership to qualify for the Champions League.

In 2000-2001, Leeds got to the Champions League semi-final.

With Aston Villa he saved the Birmingham club from possible relegation in November 2003, and brought them agonisingly close to European qualification by the end of the season.

What happened?

Well, the Leeds dream was fuelled by big borrowings and spending based on annual qualification for the Champions League. In '01-'02 the team fell from leading the league in New Year 2002 to fifth place by the end of the season. The club was also embroiled in an assault case that caused injury to an Asian student. O'Leary wrote a book 'Leeds United on Trial' that didn't go down well with the players, fans or club.

That summer of 2002 O'Leary was dismissed as manager by Leeds. A year later he took over as boss of Aston Villa, had that brush with relegation and brought them up the table. Villa never qualified for Europe in his time. O'Leary's reign lasted until 2006 when his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

What might have been

When Leeds were rocking their way up the Premiership table and carving a swathe through Europe for those couple of years, O'Leary looked set for a great managerial career.

If the Leeds assault case hadn't happened, and more importantly, if the club under Peter Ridsdale had been more prudent with borrowings, O'Leary could have ended the decade as the heir apparent to Alex Ferguson.

5 Roy Keane

What he achieved in Noughties

Came out of 1998-99 with the accolades ringing in his ears for his performance against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final in Turin. Keane got booked, but played his heart out and inspired United to victory, even though he knew that booking ruled him out of the final.

In 1999-2000 he helped United to win the Premiership title, a feat they achieved again in 2000-01 and in 2002-03 with Keane in the side. Was also in the 2004 FA Cup-winning team which beat Millwall.

The Corkman was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004, and was the only Irish player selected into the FIFA list of 100 'greatest living footballers'. As manager of Sunderland, brought them from bottom of the table to promotion in 2006-07 and kept them up in 2007-08.

What happened

The decade has been more notable for controversy surrounding Keane than success. He caused a storm at the end of December 2000 over his 'prawn sandwiches brigade' comments about the support level at Old Trafford and in 2001 brutally 'tackled' Alf Inge Haaland in the Manchester derby.

2002 was an 'annus horribilis' for Keane. He walked out on the Irish team after a blazing row with Irish boss Mick McCarthy in Saipan; he claimed in his autobiography, co-authored with Eamon Dunphy, that he had intentionally hurt Haaland, and in August that year was sent off for elbowing former Irish team-mate Jason McAteer in the face.

Keane was banned for five matches and fined €150,000 by the FA for the revelations over Haaland in his book. Manager Alex Ferguson fined him €150,000 for the incident with McAteer, which also brought a three- match suspension.

He also had a hip operation which was a career-threatening injury.

His United career ended in disarray in 2005 after a series of arguments with Alex Ferguson and injury. Shortly before that, MUTV had pulled an explosive interview with Keane in which he slammed United team-mates. Ended his career at United by mutual agreement. Spent January to June 2006 with Celtic, but quit the game that June.

Sunderland dream went well for a while, but soured in late 2008 and Keane resigned. Joined Ipswich last April and they've had a horrid start to the season.

What might have been

If Keane had been able to keep his cool and channel his temper in Saipan, he would have played in the 2002 World Cup and who knows how well it might have gone for the Irish team? And if he had the humility to allow an experienced ex-manager to be at his side as an advisor, he could still be at Sunderland and driving them onwards and upwards. But Roy is Roy and he'll do it his way, no matter what the cost.

Irish Independent