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'People were in fear of Roy' - Damien Duff says Keane's World Cup departure let Ireland players 'breathe'

24 May 2002; The former Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane prior to his departure from Saipan International Airport. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSILE *EDI*
24 May 2002; The former Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane prior to his departure from Saipan International Airport. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSILE *EDI*

Sam Roberts

Damien Duff says some members of Ireland’s 2002 World Cup squad were ‘in fear’ of Roy Keane, and suggested the Cork man’s absence from the tournament may have helped Ireland more than it hindered them.

Manchester United captain Keane famously left the squad a month before the World Cup began following a very public dispute with manager Mick McCarthy, voicing his wider frustration with how the FAI had handled the squad’s preparations.

Without Keane, Ireland snatched a late draw with eventual runners-up Germany in the group stage, before going out on penalties to Spain in the round of 16.

Ireland’s performances in the absence of one of the best midfielders in world football led some to suggest Keane’s presence could have seen Ireland advance further into the tournament. If Mick McCarthy’s men had beaten Spain they would have been faced with a winnable game against South Korea in the quarter-final, and a potential rematch with Germany in the semis.

Speaking at the launch of RTÉ’s 2018 World Cup coverage this afternoon, former Chelsea and Ireland winger Duff acknowledged that the loss of Keane was significant, but claimed his presence may have inhibited some members of the squad.

"You could argue along with Didi [Hamann] he was the best midfielder in the world at the time, so a massive influence in the changing room, but again it’s what-ifs, who knows.

"But looking at it from another point of view, Roy dominates dressing rooms, and people were in fear of Roy. Not me, not Robbie, he looked after us we were young we were fearless, but even at Man United people were in fear of him.

"I think maybe in a way when he left it let lads breathe in a way, so we’ll never know. Yeah he could have driven us on to the final, but also other players that played well might not have played as well because Roy was barking down their neck for 90 minutes.

"He was the best midfielder in the world at the time and he would improve any team, so from my point of view he would have helped us go further into the tournament, but listen, it’s all what-ifs."

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