Damien Duff: 'Not me or Robbie, but people were afraid of Roy Keane in 2002'
Damien Duff is extremely passionate - that we can say for certain.
During a brief and thoroughly engaging conversation, he manages to begin by speaking about his own memories of watching the World Cup as a kid, move on to discussing Saipan, admitting that his goal against Saudi Arabia was down to "s**t goalkeeping'" then express his concerns about the direction that Irish football is heading, and finish by dismissing England's hopes of going all the way in Russia this summer.
This is all done without barely pausing for thought. Duff has a lot on his mind and speaking in the basking sun outside the RTÉ studios at the launch of the station's World Cup coverage yesterday, he was more than happy to unload some of it.
Sixteen years on, many people are sick of listening to tales of the goings-on in Saipan, and understandably so, but Duff's take on the whole affair is worth another visit.
As a 22-year-old heading to the World Cup, this was everything the boy from Ballyboden dreamt of, and nothing was going to detract from that - not even his captain's departure just nine days before their opener.
Duff is rather nonplussed when asked if Ireland would have beaten Spain with Roy Keane in their side. Instead, the former winger takes a different approach.
"Looking at it from another point of view, Roy dominates dressing-rooms and people were in fear of Roy," Duff says.
"Not me, not Robbie (Keane), he looked after us because we were young and fearless. But even at Man United people were in fear of him. In a way, when he left, it let lads breathe.
"He could have driven us to the final but also, other players that maybe played well might not have played as well because Roy was barking down their neck for 90 minutes.
"I'm just saying maybe it freed people up. I'm not speaking about myself. I was going to play the same way regardless of whether Roy was there or Roy was not.
"He was the best midfielder in the world at the time. You'd like to think, 'Yeah, we would have gone further', but at the same time, he wasn't there and some lads could grow a bit. Who knows.
"It's only when you come back home and you realise that the country comes to a standstill.
"But the sideshow didn't bother me. As I said, myself, Robbie (Keane), Richie (Dunne), we were just young, fearless - we didn't give a f**k what was going on.
"So whoever wanted to leave the squad could leave the squad, grand.
"I was just, you know... meetings, crisis meetings, 'what are we going to do?' - I wasn't listening. I was just thinking, 'What am I going to do in the first game against Cameroon?'
"So whether it was Roy, Niall (Quinn), Steve Staunton, whoever, I just wanted to go and play football."
As for Duff's former team-mates who have written autobiographies and focused heavily on what actually happened in Saipan, the 39-year-old takes a dim view on the whole thing.
"I'm sad that's what people reference all the time," Duff admits.
"Any lad now that writes a book, they have to have a chapter on Saipan. It's embarrassing. So yeah, for me it was the World Cup, not Saipan.
"We dominated a team that got to the final. We dominated Spain, albeit a Spain that is not a patch on what they are in recent years but yeah, we should have gone further but we didn't.
"We moved on. It was a good team, a lot of quality, a lot of experience. And then a bit of youth coming through."
The fact that the World Cup has rolled around, it is only natural that the last time Ireland played in the tournament is spoken about.
Judging from the fears Duff holds about how more and more young players prefer to play rugby nowadays than football, it may be a while yet before Ireland are back on the world stage.
Amidst the apparent doom and gloom, however, there is a glimmer of hope. The excitement surrounding Declan Rice is growing with each appearance in green, while Graham Burke's exploits in recent weeks have suggested that certain League of Ireland players can step up to international level.
Working as Shamrock Rovers' U-15s coach, Duff has seen excitement grow within the club, yet he isn't expecting Burke to become a regular fixture in Martin O'Neill's plans while he is still with the Hoops.
"He gives the League of Ireland hope," Duff insists.
"Lads want to get to England, whether that's right or wrong, they hope they can get there. It gives lads hope who have been released from an English team.
"They come home and think their career is over - it's not. Because Graham Burke can be going again. I think it gives hope, and shows his quality.
"We talk about players being good on the ball, I've seen up close and personal, he'll take the ball anywhere on the pitch, he's probably too honest. When he does eventually leave, I wish him well.
"It's probably sad to say that he probably has to go to England first. I think he's good enough to stay in the squad now if he stays in the league. I think that's maybe the way people look at it, I don't know.
"I haven't had much contact time with my lads because they're doing Junior Cert and what have you. Maybe it inspires them. But they shouldn't need that. They're with me and they want a career, I'll drive them and they shouldn't need Graham Burke to inspire them.
"I'm probably tough on them at times, it's just the way I was treated at the same age by Kenny Dalglish and Alan Irvine etc, etc.
"I'd like to think I'll be happier than winning the Premier League if I get one of them a career and a cap or get them to England.
"That's my new goal, I do it because I want to do it, that's my career. I just want to help them, that's what I'm there for really."