Clinton Morrison shares advice Roy Keane gave him on morning before Saipan showdown
"By that time, I'd just ducked my head under there!"
Next summer will be the 20th anniversary of Roy Keane's infamous Saipan run-in with Mick McCarthy. We all may think we know the story by now, but there are always interesting nuggets cropping up.
So it was when former Crystal Palace and Ireland striker Clinton Morrison made an appearance on All to Play For with Joe Cole. Morrison played 36 times for Ireland, between 2001 and 2006, and scored nine times in the process.
The London-born footballer qualified to play for Ireland through a grandmother that hailed from Dublin. He scored against Croatia on his international debut, netted again in a friendly win over Denmark and made McCarthy's squad for the 2002 World Cup.
The short story of Saipan is that Keane, the Ireland captain, had a blazing row with McCarthy and ended up flying back to the UK. Both men said they would be open to Keane's return but there would be no apologies or backing down. In the end, Ireland played on without their best player and reached the second round.
Morrison always got on well with Keane, he says, and was sitting beside the then Manchester United captain and Liverpool's Steve Finnan when it all kicked off at a team meeting McCarthy had convened.
"One thing about Roy," Morrison began, "is that he loves things done properly. He's at one of the biggest clubs in the world and he drives standards. So he said, 'I want the standards right'.
"So what happens is, the first time we get there, the kit's gone missing. So we're training and there's no kits. So he's already raging! The pitch is a bit bobbly, and he's not happy. Then we're having a game, at the end, and the goalkeepers had gone out earlier, and it's hot, so they're not doing the games.
"So, by then, he's already got a rage. He's arguing with the goalkeepers coaches, he's squaring up to the likes of Shay Given and he's losing his head. So his head is already spinning."
Morrison recalls that McCarthy had called in the squad, on that infamous day, as Keane had spoken to a journalist [Tom Humphries] about his dissatisfaction with Ireland's World Cup preparations.
Before it all kicked off, though, Morrison remembers some sincere advice he received from Keane on the morning of that clash with the Ireland manager:
"The day of that," he began, "there was a beach there. I was with Roy, because we always got on well with him.
"Others would sit back, but I always getting into his mind. I like winding people up!
"So I was with him and was asking him, 'What's it like to play at a big club like Man United? What do you have to do to push yourself?'
"Roy said, 'Make sure you're here at the World Cup not to make the numbers, Clinton. Make sure because you're a good player, and just work hard'."
Morrison remembers that chat down on the beach going on for about an hour, before they returned back to the hotel for dinner. There was a sing-song after dinner - 'because there was always a sing-song' - with 'all of the Irish songs, bro'.
The atmosphere was upbeat, he recalls, but that all changed when McCarthy arrived in with a copy of The Irish Times, and Keane's interview feature in it.
As tension built, and both lads traded words, Morrison says he and Finnan - sitting nearby - were as stunned as the rest of the squad. Keane then took it up a notch, or two, by telling McCarthy he was a terrible player, manager and person, and that he had no respect for him.
"And he goes, 'You're not even Irish. You're English'.
"I was like, 'Woah'. By that time, I'd just ducked my head under there! A South London boy playing for Ireland, myself. I'm thinking, 'Is he coming for me next?!'"
"All of a sudden," he continued, "Mick's walking and Roy's walking, and I'm thinking, 'Are these two... ? We're at a World Cup, and I cannot believe our best player is going to be squaring up to our manager'."
It was after several players got in the way to separate the pair, Morrison says, that McCarthy threw out the accusation that Keane had faked an injury to get out of a playoff second leg tie against Iran.
"Next thing, Roy goes, 'Go on, Mick, make a decision'.
"And I was thinking, 'Nah, don't say that because you know what [Mick] is going to say'. And he has to - he's the manager and he can't be disrespected in front of the lads. And he's like, 'Yeah, go home'."
"I'm thinking 'I can't believe our best player is squaring up to our manager'."@morrisonclinton talks Roy Keane, Mick McCarthy and watching them almost come to blows at the 2002 World Cup
w/ @coral pic.twitter.com/PX9ufBY2lP
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) September 11, 2021
Keane flew out of Saipan soon after, with Manchester United representatives arranging the journey back to England.
"You see him, two or three days later," jokes Morrison, "back in England with that horrendous Diadora tracksuit, walking his dog."
Morrison still believes Keane would list missing that World Cup as his biggest regret in the game. It is something Keane has admitted to, saying his family would have loved to see him feature in a second World Cup.
Ireland got through the group stages and met Spain in the next round, but were eliminated after losing a penalty shoot-out. Keane would eventually return to play for Ireland, in 2004, when Brian Kerr took over from McCarthy and started plotting for Euro 2006 qualification.
WATCH THE FULL CLINTON MORRISON CHAT HERE: