"At the very last minute, Keane said he would stay in Saipan" 5 years ago

"At the very last minute, Keane said he would stay in Saipan"

"What I know about Saipan now that I didn't know then..."

It always comes back to Saipan, everything.


If you think about it long enough - and most people do - you could make a case for every argument in Ireland having the same Pacific island-shaped undertone.

In a simple story of one football player leaving a football team, it manages to encapsulate so many issues and emotions that are still as fervent today, nearly 17 years later. Loyalty, betrayal, pride, real feelings dealt with every day in real life. Management, communication, tempers. From them, questions - of service, of love, of what might have been. And, with hindsight, regret. Perhaps a country's only chance to genuinely compete at the top table when a once-in-a-lifetime team aligned with circumstance, but a clash of two personalities consigned the most polarising issue of three generations into an unresolved infinity loop forever.

It's impossible to even find middle ground.


Even if you fall loosely on Roy Keane's 'side', or the side that thought it was a monumental f**k up not getting him back out for the World Cup, it's difficult to really convince a majority of the basic principle that a good manager should manage his players and his personalities and a good manager does what it takes to get his best players on the pitch. Even if Roy Keane was a pain in the arse, he was part of the best formula for the team and a manager should manage that situation to protect the formula. But it's too easy for half the country to have more empathy for human nature and accept the idea that someone can just be a bad influence. People take on the view that if a player is disrespecting the manager or not falling in line, then you should cut him loose, same rules for everyone. Whilst a better manager knows it's not really the same rules for everyone, how do you argue with half the population when they criticise someone for walking out on their country?

You could go on and go on but it seems that there's more to the Saipan incident.

On the latest episode of Ireland Unfiltered, Eamon Dunphy sat for over an hour with Dion Fanning in a genuinely fascinating conversation and, naturally, Saipan came up - like it does in most lengthy discussions in these here parts.

At that time in 2002, Dunphy was writing Roy Keane's first autobiography and was in regular contact with the Irish captain to conduct interviews of his life story. According to him, there was a late twist in the saga which saw Keane try to do what everyone said he should've done anyway.


"There were some people - Liam Brady and John Giles and I think Mark Lawrenson was another one -  who all felt that Keane didn't really want to be there, that he was tormented and that he was looking for a way out," Dunphy recalled.

"I thought that was rubbish, I really did, because he had done more than anybody to get us there. 

"So, they felt he had self-destructed on his own and I felt that Mick McCarthy should've managed the situation and that he had overreacted to the Tom Humphries interview that Keane gave, which was the catalyst. I think managers should manage - he should've managed to keep Keane there.

"And I knew that Keane had, at the very last minute through the physio Mick Byrne, said 'look, I'll stay.' And that had been rejected."

Keane said he'd stay, And it was rejected.

It was on May 15 that Keane met up with the Ireland camp in 2002, the same night Real Madrid beat Levurkusen in the Champions League decider.


On May 17, they flew to Saipan.

On May 19, they began training.

By May 23, Mick McCarthy was talking to the press telling them that Keane had left the squad and, the next day, the player was on his way back to Manchester.

The dates are also important because the day before Keane and the Ireland squad met up, Niall Quinn was having a testimonial at the Stadium of Light between Sunderland and the Republic in which Keane did not play. Mick McCarthy or Quinn didn't flag the fact that Keane wouldn't be playing despite 35,000 tickets being sold and the event being held for charity and, because of that, what was billed as a "no show" from the midfielder received stinging press.

Two days later, on May 16, Keane played for Ireland against Nigeria which escalated the "no show" headlines.


"There's another element of all this," Dunphy explained the situation, having spoken to Keane on May 15.

"Roy arrived in camp on the night Zidane scored the winner in the Champions League final and he was raging because something had happened with Niall Quinn's testimonial in Sunderland. There had been some very bad publicity that he hadn't turned up for a charity thing. He couldn't turn up because he was crippled with a hip injury. 

"That was part of the Saipan brew that never really got mentioned."

Mick McCarthy said he knew of the injury Keane was carrying too but didn't want it to become a big story.

"If I release the news, Roy's absence will become a bigger story than the testimonial," he said in Mick McCarthy: Ireland's World Cup 2002.

"Niall is still trying to sell tickets in his efforts to make a million pounds for charity and I am not going to do anything to jeopardise that. I am not going to do anything that will jeopardise ticket sales or my relationship with Roy or Manchester United."

In his autobiography, Keane suggests that McCarthy was aware of the injury earlier than two days before the testimonial game, despite what the manager said. And we go again.

Listen to the full interview with Eamon Dunphy below.