Sport International Soccer

Tuesday 12 December 2017

'My outrage at authority's crushing of tortured genius'

While Ronan Fanning will be remembered primarily as a historian, his interests and abilities were extensive. This is his 2002 front-page story on the Saipan controversy

Roy Keane walks Triggs, the family dog, near his home on May 25, 2002 - days after being sent home from Saipan Photo: REUTERS/Ian Hodgson
Roy Keane walks Triggs, the family dog, near his home on May 25, 2002 - days after being sent home from Saipan Photo: REUTERS/Ian Hodgson

Ronan Fanning

I had originally intended to write about the fallout from the General Election today - but a mounting sense of outrage as I watched Jack Charlton's performance on the Late Late Show on Friday night changed all that.

This, I suddenly realised, was the real political story this week - the closing of the ranks of the Irish establishment as it moved to crush the challenge to its authority represented by Roy Keane.

Ronan's front page on May 26
Ronan's front page on May 26

The Late Late Show is Ireland's secular equivalent of the pulpit in the Pro-Cathedral. And Jack Charlton, of course, still enjoys saintly status as the ultimate authority on anything to do with football - a kind of beardless Moses called down from the Mount to preach to the nation with the truth writ on tablets of stone under his oxter.

Blessed Jack had been fishing. He'd been away from it all, had read nothing and, therefore, knew nothing, he disarmingly told us, of the details of the controversy. Not, of course, that an admitted ignorance of the facts prevented the Blessed Jack sitting in judgment when Pat Kenny, playing his self-appointed role as the nation's favourite altar-boy with unctuous perfection, swung open the gate to the pulpit.

The beauty of the Blessed Jack's confession of ignorance was that it enabled him to base his sermon on a gross distortion of the facts. Keane's sin, pronounced Blessed Jack again and again, was that he walked out and went home. It's his fault.

Roy Keane did not, of course, go home, as the one of doubtless thousands of irate telephone callers who got through to the Late Late Show was quick to point out; Roy Keane was sent home. But the facts mustn't get in the way of a good sermon. And for anyone who missed the Late Late Show (and, indeed, for those who saw the Late Late Show but were too thick to get the point), RTE spelt out the message of the sermon in a clip on its main news bulletin on Saturday morning.

Yet again, the nation was treated to the unmistakable voice of the Blessed Jack pronouncing sentence: "Roy Keane walked out" and "It's his fault".

So that's all right then: Mick McCarthy, the FAI, RTE and most important of all, RTE's advertisers can relax; we can forget about Roy Keane and unite behind the Boys in Green.

Except it's not going to work. That penny seemed to drop even with Pat Kenny when he petulantly asked his audience not to let Jack go home thinking we're all on Roy's side. Yes, Pat; of course, Pat; whatever you're having yourself, Pat. The reason it's not going to work is that the days of deference (whether to the Church, State, media, FAI or even Blessed Jack) are dead in Ireland, a point made by the wreath marking the death of Irish football laid outside the FAI offices in Merrion Square on Friday.

Authority is at the heart of the matter.

The essence of the differences between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy is the conflict between ability and authority.

True, Roy Keane has always been difficult. Geniuses often are. True, Roy Keane's outbursts in Saipan and his threat to go home were outrageous. But he drew back from the brink when, despite his personal instincts, his patriotism won out over his pride and his perfectionism - and he decided to stay.

Unlike Charlton and McCarthy, Keane is a political innocent and it may never have occurred to him that McCarthy might want to get rid of him.

For, given the long history of disputes between McCarthy and Keane, McCarthy must have known that the meeting, which he allegedly called to clear the air, would probably end as it did.

The golden rule of successful management in any conflict is never to air publicly differences that have only recently and with great difficulty been resolved privately.

Above all, you never ask your antagonist to eat humble pie in public. By calling a meeting of all the players, McCarthy in effect backed Keane into a corner where his only choice was either to suppress his feelings and accept public humiliation in front of his team-mates, or to remain true to himself and speak his mind. The outcome was inevitable: Keane fell into the trap and the intemperance of his outburst gave McCarthy the perfect excuse to get rid of him.

What happened next day perfectly symbolised the crass insensitivity and utter ineptitude that has characterised the FAI's preparations for the World Cup. While Keane languished alone in his hotel, the rest of the Irish party embarked on a plane which followed the precise route taken by the Enola Gay on its infamous journey to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Readers of Friday's Evening Herald, mystified by why the Irish team were subjected to another three-and-half-hour flight on top of the 17-and-half-hour flight to Saipan from Amsterdam, will scarcely have been reassured by the bizarre claim of Ray Treacy, the FAI's travel agent, that the players will have actually gained an hour, which will be the opposite of jet-lag. It would take someone better acquainted with Albert Einstein's theory of relativity than I am to get to the bottom of that particular Irish joke.

And then we whinge and whine about Paddy-bashing when the Daily Mail identifies Ireland's Secret Formula: find an island with a red-light zone but no soccer pitch, go out on binges and send your best player home. The binge accusation is, so far as I know, stereotypically false, but the other elements of the formula are indisputably accurate.

But the best measure of the consequences of Mick McCarthy's expulsion of Roy Keane is the reaction it has provoked among the other members of Ireland's group: smug smiles in Germany and Saudi Arabia; in Cameroon, where they are less inhibited, the joy was unconfined.

But not to worry: Mick and his Merry Men beat Hiroshima 2-1.

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport