The following is Paul Kimmage's Sunday Independent interview with Roy Keane which was conducted before the Ireland skipper's row with Mick McCarthy and his exit from the 2002 World Cup
In March of 2001, a few days before his monumental performance against Cyprus, I pressed the stop button of my tape recorder after a two-hour interview with Roy Keane.
There was one more item on my agenda. A few months earlier I'd heard a rumour he was considering writing a book and I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. "I don't care if the deal is already done," I said, "I just want you to know I would kill to do it."
My hat wasn't quite big enough but I meant every word: I'd have given just about anything to have spent six months trawling through the crevices of that fascinating head.
So you can imagine my spirits last Wednesday afternoon in Saipan when a few hours after he had almost quit the team, I was afforded the first interview. The hour we had wasn’t quite six months, but I certainly wasn't complaining…
This isn't quite the same interview we had planned earlier in the week but here goes.
PK: How are you feeling?
RK: Not bad, could be better, could be worse.
PK: Okay let's start from the top. We arrive here after a long and tiring flight and you go to your room?
PK: And you're rooming on your own?
PK: What did you park in terms of comforts of home?
RK: One or two books. A DVD that I've just purchased. Photographs of the kids and the wife.
PK: What books?
RK: I'd rather not say.
RK: A bit of Bob Dylan, a bit of Tupac who is a rapper, Phil Collins, some Irish Pub songs. Some Irish rebel songs, which I try and say before kickoff.
PK: Really? Irish rebel songs.
PK: And what would be your favorite, in a piece about the Holland game last year it was suggested that Simon and Garfunkel's 'I am a rock' might be a private anthem. (You hand him a copy of the words)
'I build walls fortress deep and mighty that no one may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship. Friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock. I am an island.'
He reads it and laughs.
RK: Maybe I am an island.
PK: Does it come close?
PK: Two photographs from the Holland game stand out. The photo of joy in your face when Jason McAteer scored and the photo of you shaking hands with Mick McCarthy as you walk off the pitch. The contrast has always struck me as very odd.
RK: Well, obviously, it's a job done, I'm not really into hugging and kissing and hoo haa about it. Obviously I'm delighted, don't get me wrong, but just to get off the pitch and into the dressing room.
I think sometimes there's too much carry on on the pitch regarding results. We should expect these results. For other people it might have been a shock but I always felt we would get a result.
And my emotions are different I suppose, I react differently.
PK: A lot of people interpreted the photo with Mick as proof that you don't get on.
PK: That the camera never lies.
RK: Because you don't get on with a person doesn't mean you dislike them. Of all the people I've been around in football there are none I would regard as a personal friend. Maybe the closest would be Alex Ferguson. So with Mick, I don't expect to be pals with Mick. I don't want to be pals with Mick. I played with Mick, I wasn't pals when I played with him, and I certainly don't want to be pals when I'm playing for him.
I mentioned Alex Ferguson because he's someone I feel close to but we're not pally pally, I wouldn't send him a Christmas card.
PK: Does that mean you dislike Mick?
RK: No, I don't dislike him.
PK: What about your teammates, who are you closest to here?
RK: None of them but that's been the case for many a year which I suppose ... it's not a problem over two or three days, but over a length of time it does (bother me).
PK: That same photograph was the first time I noticed your tattoos?
RK: Yeah, very painful.
PK: What are they?
RK: I've got my kids on my right arm: Shannon, Caragh, Aidan and Leah. And on the left (arm) it's just a standard cross. The wife did ask me why didn't I get her (name put on) and I said 'they'll always be my kids but you won't necessarily always be my wife,'which she wasn't too pleased about, (laughs)
PK: The other interpretation of that photo would be 'I want to get out. of here as quick as possible'.
PK: And that's difficult when you come to a place like this and have a blowout with your team-mates like yesterday, isn't it? Because I would suspect that happens regularly enough at Manchester United, that you lose the head with your team-mates? But the difference this time was you couldn't get into your car and drive home?
RK: Yeah. If I could have got a flight yesterday I wouldn't be here now.
PK: Let me take you back to the Iran game and the problem with your knee.
RK: Well again I was having problems. I never played for three weeks before the first play-off match. I spoke to the manager, our own manager at Man United, and the deal was, and there was a deal done before the match, that if we got a positive result — and 2-0 to me is positive — I wouldn't jeopardise it by doing any more damage. First of all with the flight and obviously by playing two matches in four or five days which I hadn't done for maybe three and a half weeks. So after the match I felt my knee again and on Sunday morning the manager (Ferguson) rang and said "we class 2-0 as a positive result."
And that was it, I decided to go home. I couldn't see us losing 3-0. And of course, (that leaves) you open to criticism
PK: What criticism?
RK: That I was being put under pressure (by Manchester United) but I couldn't play the second match. And I felt the job is done. And as you get older, you have to be. You have to get more to be more selfish regarding your body because I've played in hundreds of games that I probably shouldn't have played, especially when there was something at stake. But I weighed up everything. We're 2-0 up going to play a team where I think we will get a result. If it was 1-0 or 0-0 that would have been different, but I couldn't see them scoring three and us scoring none.
PK: Okay. But you're the biggest player on the team and...
RK: Well, I don't see it that way. And I'm not being humble. People are entitled to their opinion, but I think it's so exaggerated it's untrue.
PK: So who is bigger?
RK: We're all the same, no one is bigger or worse.
PK: The point I'm trying to make is that Ireland without Keane is a much lesser team and that the Iranians were handed a psychological advantage the moment you didn't check in for the flight.
RK: What was the score again?
PK: One nil.
RK: And we qualified.
PK: We qualified. Okay. Point taken. Another criticism was that you left the hotel in Dublin that morning without wishing your teammates or telling them you weren't traveling.
I can't remember what happened. It was a Sunday morning and I booked the flight, and I think they might have gone training or gone out for a loosener. Obviously I spoke to Mick and Mick Byrne, and in between, obviously I spoke to the manager who rang me on my mobile. But I felt the job was done. There was no way I could see as losing the game.
PK: Your relationship with Mick and with your team-mates would suggest that you play for Ireland on your terms? Is that fair?
RK: No, probably not.
PK: It's not fair?
RK: No. I am always one or two days late (joining up) but I feel I travel more than most of the players in the squad because of my European commitments with the club. And I don’t like being away for long periods of time. I've got four young children. I know the other players have kids but I don't worry about them, I look after me. And there's no doubt it must piss them off.
But when I'm here I work as hard as any of them. If there is a player who prepares better than me I’d like to meet him. And that's what it's all about. I love the 90 minutes playing for my country. I love it as much as the next man. And people go on that I keep blasting this and blasting that but all I want is what's best for me and for my team-mates. And if that's a crime, I'm guilty.
PK: Did you watch the second leg in lran on TV?
RK: Yeah. At home. I was flicking.
PK: You were flicking?
RK: Because it wasn't a great game. It was pretty dire.
PK: And when we qualified?
RK: It was no big deal. I felt we qualified on the Saturday before.
PK: So there was no sense of elation?
RK: No. I remember in '94 going bloody berserk and I remember all the scenes but this was completely different. I think as you get older you accept it.
PK: Did you enjoy it more then?
RK: In '94? Yeah, without a doubt
RK: I wish I had an answer. Maybe it's because I was younger. As you get older... I've got more balance in my life. In '94 it was more of a rollercoaster, I'd be up (if we won) and then down the following week if we were beaten. But now I'm trying to take the good and the bad along the same level. And the fact that I wasn't there (in Iran) obviously makes it different. I was at home and obviously pleased but, again, I was convinced we had qualified on the Saturday.
PK: What does it mean to play in another World Cup? And what did it mean first time round? There has been a sense of you really driving the team to get here this time?
RK: Hopefully I try to do that in every match. Obviously when you get that bit older you are more mature about things and take things a bit more in your stride. And I feel without doubt that I'm a much better player. '94 was a bit gung-ho. I don't think my preparation was the best for all sorts of reasons and I feel this year ... I feel this year will be a lot harder than '94 because of the teams we're playing and the fact that we are so far away.
PK: You say you enjoyed it more in '94. Does that mean you don't enjoy it now?
RK: No, I do. I love training when I'm fit. And I love winning, although it's not been a great season for us this year. The team has not played well and I've had one or two injuries and not played particularly well. But I love training. And I love being around people who have the same targets as me and at United that's generally the case, although sometimes maybe not.
But I've got people around me who want the best and that's what I think we should try and do. I look after myself a lot better. My recovery after games is a lot better and I feel a hell of a better player, but I still feel I can improve. I'm 31 this summer and the games are getting faster and players are getting stronger so you need to prepare right.
And you shouldn't be looking for a pat on the back for it. Everybody should be pulling the same way, which probably pisses me off with Ireland sometimes when I don't feel it's quite there. Some people have a laugh and bite their tongue and accept it but I don't.
PK: That side of you that refuses to go with the flow.
RK: The only thing that goes with the flow are dead fish.
PK: Very good. I bet you read that?
RK: Some friend of mine told me it recently, but that's not... every few months, especially last season, it was Keane blasts this and Keane blasts that. I don't blast anything. I love my team-mates. I love what's best for them and for the Irish team. I think all of the lads are nice lads on the Irish team. They are all genuinely good lads. They train hard, they play hard and good luck to them. And it's the same at United. 'Keane blasts this'. All I want is what's best. And no one has ever disagreed with me. Ever.
PK: Okay, but this side of you that refuses to go with the flow. With a bit of work, you could easily be the most popular sportsman in Ireland but you make no effort whatsoever to do anything for yourself in terms of PR?
RK: There's enough people who do that. There's enough people out there who enjoy things like that. And I think, eventually, people see through that. Most people I meet, United fans and Ireland fans when I go back to Cork, are generally quite nice and polite to me and I don't need to. There are enough people out there looking for photo opportunities and to become pals with certain people. I don't need it.
PK: But the flip side is that you only appear in the papers when there's a controversy or you're in a rage. There's an imbalance there?
RK: Maybe so but I don't want to be... even last week when people said, 'oh you should have turned up for Quinny's night' but what do I need to do? Make a statement every time there is some sort of accusation. Or justify why I might have been late when I told the people who were important. And today is the same. They wanted me to speak to the press today but I'll speak to the press when I'm due to speak to them at a press conference in two days' time.
PK: I don't believe you don't care what is written about you?
RK: Of course I care. I care what my parents think and what my family think.
PK: And how it affects them.
RK: Of course. And I do accept criticism when it's constructive but I'm coming over on the flight (to Dublin) the other day and reading 'Roy Keane was disrespectful to Niall Quinn and should have been in the stand with a shirt and tie on.' But why the fuck should I have been sitting in the stand with a shirt and tie on when I'm not fit. It's Niall Quinn's night, not Roy Keane's! That was Quinny's night and good luck to him. 'Disrespectful.' That's not nice, but did I send out a statement the next day to correct it? No, because I'd be making statements every day of the week.
PK: There's no history between you and Niall?
PK: But this is a guy who has gone out and made this fantastic gesture for charity. He is Ireland's record goal scorer. Why not do him. a favour? Why not say, 'okay, this doesn't suit me but he's my team-mate and I’ll go along?'
RK: To do what?
PK: As a gesture of support. To be there because you're Roy Keane.
RK: I was flying out the next day for four or five weeks ... now do you want me to sit in a stand or stay at home with my wife and kids? I went to the pictures with my wife. Did you want me to sit in the stand and be pestered by people who are drunk? Do you think it would have made a difference?
PK: I bumped into Eamon Dunphy recently and we spoke about your book (Dunphy is ghosting the Keane autobiography) and one of the things he mentioned was that you don't have any friends in the game?
RK: No, that would be right.
PK: And that won't hurt you when your career has ended?
PK: But you like dogs?
RK: Yeah, I've got my dog.
PK: What is it?
RK: A Labrador retriever.
PK: What's his name?
RK: It's a she. Triggs.
PK: Wily dogs?
PK: They don't let you down?
PK: They don't turn you over?
PK: Okay, let's rewind the tape now to the start of this trip. It's Friday the 17th of May, we've just played Nigeria and we're about to depart for the World Cup. And seasoned Keano watchers are wondering 'how is he going to handle a month away from home?' (He grins). So you arrive at the airport to check in and straight away there's the media circus with Bertie and it's obvious from your demeanour that you're not very impressed?
RK: No, but none of the players were. And did you not see the (chaos at) check-in? And then we go into this lounge and there's two guys dressed as leprechauns (promoting) The Sun, telling me to cheer up. They want me to pose for a photograph for The Sun newspaper! And we're in a lounge getting ready for a long haul flight with the Irish football team! It's a laugh isn't it? It's a great laugh.
PK: But you’re not laughing?
RK: Certainly not.
PK: Because you hate all that?
RK: It's crazy. It's absolutely crazy. And all of the players feel the same. They were all complaining about it on the plane. And then eventually we do get into some sort of lounge but we're still getting all sorts of people coming up to us and you're thinking 'How the hell did they get in here?' And it's not losing touch with reality it's ... We're getting ready for a World Cup. We're going to be travelling for over 20 hours. And I've got two bloody leprechauns telling me to 'Cheer up Keano.' I thought 'I'll fucking knock you out, you stupid c**t.'
PK: And did that put you in bad humour for Bertie?
RK: No, but again, the Bertie thing. I've met Bertie before. I think there was an election that day, was there?
PK: You mean you didn't vote?
RK: No. But all that should have been organised before we left the hotel. The President came out the night before and it's well and good them all wishing us luck, it's great, don't get me wrong but there are always hidden agendas, always, always, hidden agendas. Bertie is a bloody nice bloke. I've met him a few times, he's a big United fan, I know all that but it's just … it should have been better organised.
PK: Okay, so then we fly to Amsterdam and you have a go at a couple of journalists at the airport?
RK: No, no, I didn't have a go. If that's having a go...
PK: So that was mild?
RK: (Laughs) Very mild. I was dead relaxed about it. It was them that got carried away.
PK: It was just a mild bollicking?
RK: It wasn't even a bollicking. I just thought … And I was annoyed with myself afterwards because I felt I had lowered myself. But it was because of what I had read on the way over. Philip Quinn (Irish Independent) said I was disrespectful to Niall but they need to know their facts. And Billy George! Billy works for The Echo or The Examiner, which I despise anyway for some of the things they have written about my family so ... I felt annoyed at that. But that's history now.
PK: And when you get annoyed like that how difficult is it to control?
RK: Sometimes I don't find a problem but other times, enough is enough. But I haven't had a confrontation with a reporter for a long, long time.
PK: Okay, so we arrive in Saipan and there's a meal and a team meeting that evening and Mick announces that the training kit hasn't arrived yet. And it pisses you off.
RK: Yeah, but it doesn't surprise me.
PK: So is that his fault or the FAI.
RK: It doesn't matter, does it?
PK: So you go training the next morning, and you tog out in runners and stuff, and the pitch is bad, and that's really irritating for you, the ultimate pro.
RK: Yeah, for any pro.
PK: And there's a barbecue with the press later that evening.
RK: Yeah, which I can't understand. But then again, some of the players are best mates with the press, so why not go out with them. And the same with Mick and the staff.
PK: It's called good public relations.
RK: Yeah, but a lot of them are hypocrites. And you want me to sit there and have a barbecue, with a guy who three or four years ago, wrote an article encouraging people to boo me on an international match. Am I supposed to enjoy that? Am I supposed to feel comfortable with that? I probably shouldn't have gone but sometimes I do make the effort.
PK: And yet, despite these irritations, by Tuesday afternoon you' re in good form. Jason says he has spoken to you more in the last couple of days than in the last couple of years. Relations within the team are good.
RK: Yeah... but again... they're all decent lads to be fair to them, although I wouldn't take too much notice of what Jason says. Jason has a big mouth.
PK: Even when he says nice things about you? Even when he says, as he did last week when you were getting it in the neck from the papers, that people never hear about the Roy Keane that goes to visit sick kids in hospitals?
RK: Naah ... Jason is just being Jason … he's probably hoping I’ll find that out. He also said a few months ago that I was a grumpy bastard but the day I start worrying about what Jason says will be a sad one. But he's a nice lad.
PK: Despite that?
PK: And then we get to the training session and Stan (Steve Staunton) makes a joke about Packie (Bonner) justifying his job and you have a laugh about it. And you run out to begin the session with a smile on your face and everything appears to be normal until the five-a-side when suddenly it is announced that the goalkeepers have finished for the day. What happens next?
RK: Well, you ask any footballer in the world, whether they are playing Sunday league or right at the top... when you finish training with five-a-side you need 'keepers. Ask any player. Ask any of the Irish lads. We all felt the same.
But they (Packie) felt the ‘keepers had worked hard enough. But we've done just under three hours training since we've come here and I think we've come to work. It's not our fault that Packie started the training session with the three keepers half an hour earlier, we had done our shooting earlier for their benefit. And that's where the team comes into it. Even if you're fucked you just stand in the goal. And that did piss me off.
PK: And so you had a word with Taff (Ian Evans), the assistant manager about this.
RK: Yeah, I mentioned to Taff and he's gone "Oh well, they're knackered" as if we all felt great. We were all tired.
PK: So the game starts with Niall Quinn and Richard Dunne improvising in goal, but not allowed to use their hands. And what was interesting watching it with the intensity with which you played. As if winning that five-a-side was life or death.
RK: I wouldn't go that far. It was probably more important than that (laughs). No, I suppose there was an element of let's get on with it, but inside I was fuming.
PK: Because there was no goalkeepers?
RK: Yeah. But also because of the whole combination of things ... Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. From day one it has been negative. And that's my opinion. .And I'm entitled to my opinion. And people are saying 'It's Keane as usual' but all the players are feeling the same but some show it in different ways.
PK: With the game tied at 4~4 you lose to a penalty and you walk off and have a go at Packie.
RK: Not really no.
PK: Okay, you have a lively discussion with Packie?
RK: A lively discussion, but I’d have hundreds of thousands of them with the lads at United.
PK: Except that you can get in the car and drive home afterwards?
RK: Probably yeah.
PK: And then you have a go at Alan Kelly?
RK: I didn't have a go at Alan Kelly. Alan Kelly had a go at me.
PK: What did he say?
RK: Well, I'm not going to get into the gory details but obviously, I felt the 'keepers should have been there. And Alan said, "Well, we've worked really hard." And I said "Well what are you here for? And will you be working as hard tomorrow on the golf course." We've (only) done three hours work since we got here! And I know it's a relaxing break and the sun is going to do you good and that you can’t train too hard but you've got to step into it. Alan felt we had done enough work and I felt we hadn't.
PK: And the argument was heated.
RK: Yeah, the one between me and Kells (Alan Kelly) was ... but again, I'd had hundreds of thousands of them with team-mates at United.
PK: And what about when he shook his head and told you to shut up and you said '"re you going to make me?" What if he had said “Yeah, I fucking will'? Would you have hit him?
RK: (Smiles) You never know, he might have hit me... Naah, he told me to calm down.
PK: He told you to calm down?
RK: Yeah. And I said 'Are you going to make me?’
PK: But that wasn't the time or place to discuss it, was it ?
RK: No, of course not. But everything is great in hindsight. You don't pick these moments.
PK: But what about the control Roy? That it would almost come to blows? And that you would be prepared for it to come to blows. That isn't rational behaviour from a man of your stature?
RK: Yeah, but I was giving my opinion and I felt he was wrong. And he has the right to be wrong, I’ll have to remember that. But when he starts going 'Ahh we've worked hard' I'm thinking 'Well what did you come over here for? You're supposed to work hard'. You've got to make sacrifices for your team-mates. Do you think when you 're tired you can just walk off? And that's when you wonder: do these people want the same as me? And that's when the doubts set in and I honestly don't think they do. Whether it's the players or the staff... it makes me wonder.
PK: But the goalkeepers’ work is particularly physical?
RK: They're not going to die. They looked all right at the barbeque the other night. They won't be too fucked on the golf course today.
PK: Okay, take me through the process of what happened next. You returned to the hotel and had a meeting with Mick. Was that your call or his call?
RK: My call.
PK: You told him you wanted to see him?
PK: And what happened?
RK: I told him I'd had enough.
PK: And how did he respond?
RK: Are you sure blah, blah, blah. And I said yeah.
PK: Now that meeting took place almost as soon as you had returned from training so you hadn't thought about it for very long?
RK: Yeah, well ... I did have a cold shower before I met him but I'd had enough. And it's not just been this trip it's been a combination of things over the years. International football if anything has been a nuisance to me. I love the 90 minutes but it's the rest of the crap. The negative stuff I've had off people over the years regarding rooming on my own and hanging about with the lads and all that and I just thought 'Naah, I don't need it.' And I wouldn't be here now basically only for other people. If it was down to me I'd be gone.
PK: And is that it now for international football after the World Cup?
PK: Okay, so you tell Mick you're gone and go back to your room. Yeah. You didn't speak to anyone before you spoke to Mick?
RK: No, because I'm convinced they would have said I was doing wrong.
PK: Who did you call first?
RK: My wife.
PK: What did she say to you?
RK: She said do whatever you think is right. She told me that Michael (his solicitor Michael Kennedy) wanted to speak to me because the press had got hold of certain things ... which amazed me because only one or two people knew about the conversation (with Mick). So I spoke to Michael and he said the manager (Alex Ferguson) had been ringing and wanted to speak to me. So I rang him and I'm glad I did. Because he is somebody I would listen to and trust.
PK: You also went for a walk last night on the beach?
PK: And did anything on that walk change your mind in any way?
RK: It was a long night. There was a lot going on. I felt the same this morning but after I spoke to the manager and he gave his opinion on what I should do, I decided to stick it out.
PK: I'm not sure what he said to you but l would imagine it was something along the lines of "For fuck's sake don't do this. You will be destroyed?"
RK: (He looks puzzled) How would it destroy me?
PK: You were prepared to walk out on your country and on your teammates on the eve of a World Cup?
RK: Naah ... I think you're reading it wrong. I'm sure they would have thought ‘Well he must have a damn good reason.' And I think if I did walk away people would, well, maybe not agree with me but say, 'Fucking hell, that must have been bad.' But I wouldn't have worried what they thought of me in Ireland but I've got my mam and dad and family over there and it would have been a lot harder for them so.
PK: There are a lot of guys on the technical staff who have enormous affection for you: Mick Byrne and Johnny Fallon stand out. Would nothing they have said have changed your mind at all?
PK: When you decided you were staying how did you notify Mick and the rest of the team?
RK: I don't really want to go into that.
PK: Did you feel awkward, having announced you were going home, facing your team-mates at training this morning?
RK: Em... I hadn't announced it. I had spoken to Mick. I hadn't announced it to anybody else.
PK: Eamon Dunphy announced it on Today FM.
RK: Well, you know Eamon... but they would have had to book flights so it could have been a combination of anything.
PK: You didn't speak to Eamon?
RK: No. But they were trying to book flights so... Did I feel awkward? No, I just decided to put my head down and get on with it.
PK: Did you make it up with Alan Kelly?
RK: We spoke yesterday.
PK: So has there been nothing positive about this week? The fact that you can float around the hotel without getting hassle isn't a plus?
RK: Yeah, yeah, I had two walks yesterday and it's great but there's only so much walking you can do. It's different if you have a dog with you or somebody... I could spend an hour on the beach but I get bored after half an hour. And I've got books but there's only so many books you can read. I've got my three brothers and my cousin coming out next week so that will give me a bit of breathing space I suppose. People I can talk to. And feel relaxed with. People I can trust.
PK: Is Theresa (wife) coming out?
RK: No, with four kids it's too far.
PK: Okay where does it go from here? We play Cameroon next week? What's your take on this World Cup?
RK: Well, a lot of people think we should qualify but I think it's going to be very hard. We have an important week and a half... and no matter what happens, and no matter what I think is not going right, I'll make sure I'm right. Cameroon next Saturday at three o'clock will be bloody hard physically, because the conditions will play a factor. We need a positive result but I'll try and enjoy it and make my mark.
PK: In the World Cup?
PK: And is it going to be hard for you to stay within the team?
RK: I don't really care. I'll just get through it and we'll see what happens.
The Nation Holds Its Breath Premium
It was an apology that would need to carry east through eight time-zones and a blizzard of rumour and counter-rumour that left no threshold for ambiguity.