Tuesday 12 December 2017

'People still miss the point about Saipan' -- Keane

Ten years on, Roy Keane has no regrets and reveals dark days of youth international duty

Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Roy Keane. Photo: Sportsfile

FOR half an hour, Roy Keane has fielded questions like a pundit, a label he wants to avoid while his desire to get back into management remains. A variety of topics are raised, and the responses are interesting, if not incendiary.

Criticism of Manchester United's derby flops is qualified. So, too, is a minor rebuke of Darron Gibson. From the top table, his views are delivered in the style of someone who currently makes his living from talking about football.

Then, a few minutes later, he is ushered to the corner to speak with a smaller group. The Saipan card is played. And, suddenly, the old fires are burning. The premise of the discussion is to ascertain if his views have mellowed as the 10-year anniversary approaches.

Some chance.

"No regrets," he responds, without hesitation, when asked if he now wishes he had gone on to play in Japan and Korea. "I still think people miss the point of what was going on over there."

Go on then.

Attitude

"I still think we went with the wrong attitude, I think things were badly organised, and there were accusations against me. Again, people still miss that point and get sidetracked by other stuff. I've never faked an injury in my life. If anything, I played with too many injuries. But people still miss the point."

And we're off.

It's the unprompted recollection of the suggestion that he faked injury to miss the second leg of the World Cup play-off with Iran that appears to have flicked the switch. A subsequent 'Newstalk' interview ends quite abruptly when he takes offence to discussion of that specific matter. He talks about Mick McCarthy aiming that barb in his direction during their infamous piano-room row, and says that it was the sole reason why he decided to go home. The other complaints about the set-up in Saipan paled in comparison.

"Absolutely," he says. "We were packed, we were moving to the next training camp. Obviously, I'd done an article and Mick pulled it out and said I was having a go and all that nonsense and I should have played in the second game against Iran. And that was the reason I didn't play in the World Cup, simple as that, forget about facilities because all that had been sorted out and I knew we were going on to better ones.

"In defence of Mick, what was going on was a joke. If you look at any organisation, going away for a major tournament, they'd have a load of people supporting the manager. I know about New Zealand rugby, and they have so many people in place. And I know when I became a manager myself, I appreciated what a hard job it is. When you're a manager, trying to get footballers is hard enough, without having to make sure there's footballs and training kits there."

A follow-up question about the facilities comes next. "Well if you want to go back over old ground," he says, before proceeding over said turf. "The pitch, the fact we had no training gear, we had no medical gear. Do you want me to carry on?"

Yes please.

"And there were one or two things that went on before. I remember I had a few injuries and I missed Niall's (Quinn) game and there was tension built up with that.

"Then, in Saipan, I had a disagreement with one or two of the goalkeepers because they didn't want to train. If you don't want to train a couple of weeks before the World Cup -- it doesn't surprise me why these players didn't win too much in their careers. That's not being disrespectful, that's a fact."

He is asked to rewind for a second. Now that we're stuck into this old chestnut, we may as well gnaw the life out of it. To this day, bar-room Saipan discussions descend over the question of whether Keane was sent home, or if he legged it. McCarthy said in the immediate aftermath that he made the call. Keane's supporters have been known to latch onto this when challenged with the argument that the Corkman left Ireland in the lurch.

Time to settle this, once and for all.

"Mick sent me nowhere. I told him where to go," he declares. "What? Do you think Mick McCarthy said to me 'I'm sending you home'?"

"That's what he said at a presser," replies a reporter who was present on the island at the time.

"That's not true. Was this the press conference that was done within half an hour of the private meeting? Yeah. Piss-up in a brewery springs to mind."

Another voice wonders if his legacy will be the improvement in preparations this time around. Keane likes the noises from the Ireland camp. He is impressed with John O'Shea coming out to say they are going to Poland to make an impact. From what he's hearing, the set-up ahead of Euro 2012 ticks the boxes. It sets him off into a reflection on darker days, bitter memories from his youth that evidently still hurt.

"Since I've been involved with Ireland at 14 or 15, coming up to Dublin for trials... there was plenty going on there," he starts. "I don't mind being told I was too small, but U-16, going away, I was the only player not to get a game. We played against France. One player never got on the pitch, that was me. There were U-15 lads getting in ahead of me.

"When I went to Spain, European Championships, I was the only player not to get a game. I was with the Irish U-17s in Malta, I didn't get involved. I was told to get the balls behind the goals.

"I was getting phone calls when I missed friendly matches -- when I was 20 or 21, and Forest wouldn't let me go -- that I'd never play for Ireland again."

He's remembering more examples as he speaks, wiping the dust from reflections on other grievances.

"Go back to the '94 World Cup when I was wheeled out in front of the media because of an argument. Why am I getting wheeled out by Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters because of some argument Andy Townsend had. And Jack shouting at me to come in here. And I did it because I was a younger player at the time. He's saying: 'Did we have an argument?' All that nonsense. Do me a favour, Jack, you know what I mean."

"So don't think I just went to Saipan and it was all that. Even when I came back with Ireland, I passed (John) Delaney in a few hotels in Paris and he wouldn't even say hello. Listen, obviously, it takes two to tango. I know that."

Does he ever harbour ambitions to become Irish manager? "Not today, they've got a very good manager."

Down the line then? "Highly unlikely. My priority, if I go back, is club management. I've had one or two opportunities to go back into football and one of them was international football but at the moment it doesn't appeal to me. I'm too young for that."

The smile is back now. Another load off the chest, even if it's only chipping away at the iceberg. "Trust me, lads, there's another book here I think somewhere," he grins. No regrets, but he never forgets.

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