Vincent Hogan watched from the wrong side of the world as the final part of that act played out
It was an apology that would need to carry east through eight time-zones and a blizzard of rumour and counter-rumour that left no threshold for ambiguity.
Roy Keane was, reputedly, ready to say sorry. Ready to set a conciliatory tone that would rinse all of this sudden angst from our lives and allow sleep patterns in The Green Morris Hotel, Izumo settle into some semblance of order.
That stark, box-like, nine-storey structure was the Irish media's base for our final World Cup countdown. A strangely islanded precinct turning into the last week of May 2002 as we wrestled, not simply with the story of our missing captain, but an eight-hour time difference that meant his ungovernable mood-swings would have to be monitored, parsed and processed from our end in the dead of a Japanese night.
Mick McCarthy had, of course, declared the story over. Saipan, "the whorehouse of the Western Pacific" as one English journalist colourfully described it, was now in the rear-view mirror. Mick assured us he'd "drawn a line under" all that unpleasantness, yet - bizarrely - then chose to comment on it extensively in first-person for an English tabloid.
He'd reputedly been the recipient of a six-figure sum from the same stable for committing to two articles in which he doubled-down on all that anger communicated to the Ireland manager in the Hyatt Regency ballroom.
In other words, the subject might have been declared off-limits to those of us trying to cover the story in Izumo, yet the two chief protagonists were still happy to come swinging at one another, given the sweetener of a cheque.
At the time, we all took sides of course. Yet it's clear that hindsight flatters neither party now, revealing two headstrong individuals who, given the leadership vacuum left by a risibly weak FAI, allowed their personal differences slowly amplify into a ruinous Punch and Judy war.
To be an Irish journalist in Izumo the week after Saipan was, thus, to be caught in an almost unworkable time warp. Because Ireland's World Cup story became the story of a sullen man walking his dog in Cheshire.
The other 22 players were just voices at the edge of our world, some dipping into the Izumo Dome for press conferences that came to bear a futile, faintly elegiacal feel. Just six days out from the opening game against Cameroon in Niigata, Ian Harte, Mark Kinsella and Dean Kiely arrived at the dais like men whistling nervously in a minefield.
They were asked two questions about Cameroon, 19 about their missing captain. But then that was the day we heard the United Nations had chosen to intervene. Or, more specifically, RTÉ's equivalent, their correspondent for traumatised children, Tommie Gorman.
News that Keane had agreed to be interviewed on national TV felt a game-changer, suggesting - perhaps - a softening in his position, maybe a willingness to come back.
So the bedroom lights in The Green Morris Hotel would stay on that Monday night of May 27, the technological challenge of connecting with this Papal address throwing up a complex Rubik's cube of options.
Keane's interview would be broadcast on the evening news which meant, assuming it was RTÉ's lead story, we would begin to hear of his intentions some time around 2am.
But, of course, life wasn't quite that simple; neither was connecting to home from the Far East 18 years ago.
Three separate operations rooms were set up, one on the hotel roof where an RTé crew planned accessing the Tommie-Roy extravaganza directly; the other two in bedrooms little bigger than double-door fridges. The bedroom options could be distilled down into a choice between blind faith and wary, old-world realism.
In room A, a renowned wizard of electronic gadgetry expressed confidence that he could access RTÉ on his shoebox Tandy. In room B, a clear phone line was established with a Dublin mother, the poor woman committed to standing close to her television screen for the interview's duration.
Bedroom phones having a futuristic hands-free option in The Green Morris, I chose the latter and - almost two decades later - it's difficult to properly convey the sense of tumult in that room at hearing the familiar title music to RTÉ's News.
A great hush instantly descended, maybe 20 voice-recorders already rolling.
And that's when a TV producer began playing comedian in our lives. Bizarrely, the Keane interview would be item four in that news programme, only coming to us around the time stragglers from the other operations rooms were admitting defeat in their efforts at a direct connection.
So a Dublin Mammy had us in the palm of her hands, Keane's voice carrying surreally out of our tiny prison room into a now-congested corridor.
And the nuggets began to fall….
"I was wronged..."
"I might be a lot of things but I'm not a liar…"
"The people of Ireland deserve to know the truth…"
"My conscience is clear…"
"If there was any doubt in my mind that I had been a little bit out of order, I'd be back like a shot. But I won't accept it, I can't accept it…"
"I felt I deserved better…"
"People have made me out to be a loner, a monster, and it's nonsense. The ball is in other people's courts…"
This was the apology? True, we were privy to just an abridged version of the interview - the full transcript would not be available for another two or so hours - but Roy sounded like a man who'd turned up to the therapist's clinic squaring for a bare-knuckle fight.
If it was true that Manchester airport was clogged with private jets (including the Government's) on stand-by to facilitate the captain's return, someone surely needed to stand the crews down here.
Keane was still a lost soldier in the jungle. Deeper in it than we knew.
Yet, still, there was no way of being certain here.
So down we all flooded to a nearby taxi-rank and across town to The Royal Hotel where McCarthy and his 22 remainers slept (or in some cases stared at the ceiling) under heavy police protection from our growing radioactivity.
The guards holding us at the gate, news filtered out that McCarthy would speak to us at 7am.
Dawn breaking, physio Mick Byrne grinningly waved a white towel from a bedroom window, his gallows humour eliciting weary whimpers from the media pack.
Then the slow unravelling of a story now cursed to slip into the realm of deep, deep farce.
As ghost for Niall Quinn's Irish Independent column, I had a ringside seat for his agonised machinations - mostly without McCarthy's knowledge - to try smoothing the way for Keane's return. "Everyone wants the same thing" as he put it.
Yet, not a single FAI representative thought it appropriate to sit down with the players and canvass their views. Instead, Quinn and Steve Staunton, both called "cowards" by Keane in his tabloid exclusive, found themselves working almost furtively to broker a solution.
Eventually, Staunton's patience snapped, leaving Quinn increasingly isolated and careworn just as the real farce began to take hold.
Having read the full transcript of Keane's interview, McCarthy addressed the players that morning, announcing his intention to finally, conclusively declare Roy Keane out of Ireland's World Cup.
"You can do one of three things," he told them. "You can back me, you can do nothing at all or you can support Roy!"
It wasn't exactly a groaning platter of alternatives and they read it for precisely what it was. An ultimatum.
On the bus to training, the senior players drafted a short, hand-written statement, declaring "the interests of the squad are best served by Roy's absence". The plan, sadly, demanded a co-ordination of timing that happened to go unenunciated.
Hence the statement was printed up and distributed to media prior to McCarthy's press conference (delayed so that FAI CEO Brendan Menton could fly in from Korea). In other words, a gesture of support for their manager now, suddenly, bore a more subversive tone.
The players, essentially, were seen to have taken the initiative themselves and closed the door on Keane.
Later, Quinn would find himself deployed in the business of bomb-disposal, trying to explain the context of a premature statement against the brewing sense at home that they had now, formally, abandoned their captain. His apology stretched in the end to half an hour of eloquent but agonised soul-searching.
Next into the Dome, 90 minutes later, strode Menton, McCarthy and the manager's assistant, Ian Evans. This press-conference extended to just 12 minutes, Menton then declaring bizarrely, "I think we've said what's important", when nobody else in the room thought that at all.
The story in Ireland, meanwhile, had now shifted. Word emerged that Keane had agreed to phone McCarthy, declaring a desire to return albeit, potentially, in the continued absence of an apology.
Such a scenario would, patently, leave the manager in a hopelessly invidious position. Would he feel compelled to resign?
Then at 3.30am in Izumo - just two days before the squad flew to Niigata - Quinn got the phone call alerting him to the impending release of a statement in Manchester. Roy Keane would not be apologising. Roy Keane would not be travelling to Japan. Roy Keane would continue walking his dog.
The news was broken to us in Izumo at approximately 4.30am. We finally had a story that was no longer rolling.