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23rd Jun 2018

Roy Keane reveals real reason he walked away from Ireland at 2002 World Cup

"I don't have any regrets"

Patrick McCarry

“It wasn’t all to do with balls, bibs and cones.”

Roy Keane came back to represent Ireland in 2004 but some folks seem to believe he packed in the international game once and for all on the Pacific island of Saipan, two years beforehand.

For years to come, Irish people that lived through the 2002 World Cup (and that can remember it) will talk of the feud between Ireland captain Roy Keane and boss Mick McCarthy ahead of the tournament. A fundamental, ever-worsening clash of personalities came to a head just over a week before the World Cup began and Keane flew home.

McCarthy stayed on with Ireland until he failed to get them to Euro 2004 and Keane returned to play under Steve Staunton in April of that year. Both men have met up and put the past to one side, but it does not stop us all talking about it.

Keane has been doing a fine job of the punditry, for ITV, at this year’s World Cup in Russia, even if he does stray into some old-school truisms at times. As part of his work detail, the former Manchester United star spoke with Mark Pougatch for the station’s regular tournament podcast.

Asked about Saipan, and whether there were any lingering regrets, Keane began:

“I don’t have any regrets. I’m disappointed in how it happened and how it panned out, but there are two sides to every story. There was a lot of talk when we got over there about the facilities, no bibs, no balls, no cones. That really irritated me because if that happened to Germany, England or Brazil, there would heave been uproar. For some reason because it’s Ireland, it’s a laugh and joke.”

“I had enough years of that type of behaviour and I wanted to give us the best chance of winning. Into the week, just before we’re leaving Saipan, we had a bit of a team meeting and I was confronted by the manager and I’d do it again tomorrow. I’ve always said that I’ve never lost a wink of sleep about how I reacted to the accusations that were made against me but I’d have loved to play in a World Cup. Of course I would. That’s what the game is all about. It wasn’t to be but I don’t look back and regret my actions.”

As he has touched on, in past autobiographies, it was the nagging sense that he was being accused of being disloyal and faking injury to put his club, United, over his country that really pissed him off.

“It wasn’t all to do with the balls, bibs and cones because that was all taken care of a few days before they [Ireland] left their training camp,” he said.

“What really made me angry is when you get accused of something by your manager – in front of a group of players – well then, you’re going to react… and I reacted. As a senior player and the captain, I just felt that these were lies.”

“I was accused of faking an injury and not being available for a match – when I was actually injured,” he added. “What Mick was saying wasn’t true so if you make them accusations against me, guess what’s going to happen?! You’re going to get fireworks…

“Trust me, it wasn’t about the bibs and the balls and all that – because that was already taken care of. But to be accused of missing matches in front of a group of players, actually, believe me, I actually left people off lightly! There could have been a lot more trouble.”

Keane still clings to the fact that he would have returned to the fold but it would have taken an apology from McCarthy to get him over to Japan, where Ireland were based, for the tournament.

When asked by Pougatch if any bridges could have been built to get Keane back into Irish camp ahead of their World Cup opener against Cameroon, Keane said that he might have returned if an apology was issued.

His big regret from the whole, sorry matter is the undue stress it placed on his parents.

“For my family, mostly for my parents, it was a stressful time,” he said. “No shadow of a doubt.

“I didn’t bring it on myself, this stuff was thrown at me and I could deal with it but they suffered for it. I was thinking ‘I know what happened and I can deal with it’, but at no stage did they ever put pressure on me. They knew me and trusted me.”

You can listen to the full chat on the ITV podcast here.