Sport Soccer

Monday 18 December 2017

Daniel McDonnell: Let's stop acting like children – it's time to put Saipan rift to bed

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

LAST week on Newstalk, they finished a discussion on the merits of Roy Keane by reading out a message from an 18-year-old.

It followed a familiar, repetitive range of comments from other listeners with deep-seated historical views of the man himself.

The concluding text had a refreshing outlook. "This is the most amazing thing that's ever happened to Irish football in my lifetime," he said.

Perhaps it's worth considering that sentiment as we embark on a fresh chapter this week.

Saipan is still a shadow that hangs over Irish football, but maybe the return of His Royness can genuinely accelerate the process of putting that event in its proper context – and that's the past tense.

Inevitably, the name of that island grabbed the back pages yesterday after Martin O'Neill admitted that he disagreed with Keane's stance in 2002 and had told him as such.

Yet, there was levity in how the new boss dealt with it at his unveiling, adding that the Corkman had retorted by saying that O'Neill had picked the wrong team in Celtic's 2003 UEFA Cup final defeat to Porto. "We're going to have the occasional debacle," smiled O'Neill.

The aforementioned teenage texter would have been one of the children that Tommie Gorman asked Keane about in the RTE interview at the height of the World Cup soap opera.

"What about all the little kids in Ireland?" he asked, tugging at the heartstrings.

Those 'little kids' are young adults now, a generation that has grown up in a barren time for the game here. The misery of Euro 2012 is all they can remember in its entirety, an experience which probably set Irish football back when the opposite was anticipated.

Back in '02, this writer was 19, with cheerier childhood memories to draw upon – the summers of 1990 and '94 embedded in the mind.

We were lucky, if slightly jealous of those a little older who had travelled and taken in those magical days, and had the money to fly to Japan and Korea. The singsong in Poland, as Keane described it, was largely an attempt by a different generation to have their turn, but the absence of a coherent football plan took the gloss from it.

What matters now is building something tangible for the future, so that the tournament voyages become more than a once-in-a- decade adventure.

The original stream of references to Keane's supposed treachery have slowed down, even if there are a noble few hanging onto it, believing it's the true mark of a fan, when, in reality, it's futile and ultimately serves no purpose.

Laughably, a small contingent greeted Keane's arrival by pointing out that they wouldn't be supporting the Irish team with this "traitor" in the ranks. In other words, they'd be turning their back on their country because they think this fella turned his back on the country. That's a strange logic.

Everything that was important in 2002 seems irrelevant now. We thought Alex Ferguson and Keane would be bonded together forever, not sniping at each other through books and TV studios. We presumed that players loyal to Mick McCarthy might never welcome Keane back, when it turned out they were quite willing to do so.

Last month, Robbie Keane endorsed bringing his namesake into the fold. Richard Dunne is fine with it, too. The general vibe from other members of that group, who are now watching from afar, is that they're excited and captivated by what might happen next. And they were there, man.

Football moves on; it always does. Sure, there are reservations about Keane, primarily based on anecdotes from Sunderland and Ipswich, but if players who were part of those dressing-rooms are willing to give this experiment a chance, then surely all supporters have to be willing to do the same.

One of the great myths of 2002 is that every Irish citizen was pro-Keane or pro-McCarthy – a simplification that forgets the silent rump who weren't in either camp and just thought it was a bloody shame it had to happen.

They wanted the best team on the pitch, because it gives Ireland a better chance of winning football matches. It's as simple as that.

We know that the 'S' word will crop up on Wednesday when the most high-profile No 2 in international football is presented to the press, but that has to be point where it's parked so the show can go on.

The kids of 2002, like the 18-year-old who typed his words to Newstalk, don't care anymore. It's the adults who can't let it go that are acting like children.

Irish Independent

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