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'He's the only assistant who gets this much publicity. It’s bonkers' - Mick McCarthy on Saipan and Roy Keane

And the former Ireland boss admits he knew the Saipan pitch was ‘shite’.

Keane and McCarthy shake hands after the 2001 victory over Holland.
Keane and McCarthy shake hands after the 2001 victory over Holland.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

MICK MCCARTHY THINKS that Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane gets too much attention, leaving Martin O’Neill to ‘mop up’ after him. 

And McCarthy, who brought Ireland to the World Cup in 2002, said his side wouldn’t have progressed past the group stage if Keane had stayed on after the Saipan row. 

“Me and Roy have had our issues, of course, but I’m not in there with him, I don’t see what’s going on,” McCarthy said at a Paddy Power event with Eamon Dunphy last night.

“All I will say is this: he’s the only assistant manager in the whole of the world who gets this much publicity, nobody else. TC [Terry Connor], my assistant, never got a mention.

“It’s like Roy Keane’s Ireland. It’s bonkers, in my view. He should be assistant Martin O’Neill. It shouldn’t be Martin having to mop up anything else that’s going on.”

Keane and McCarthy infamously fell out in the lead up to the ’02 World Cup while at a training camp in the south Pacific island of Saipan. But they had a ‘pretty shite’ relationship in the years preceding that argument, McCarthy says. 

“I had a run in with him on the bus coming back from the USA tour. All the lads had been out, not just Roy. We were all waiting for them to come back, they’d only had a beer and were late getting on the bus,” he told Dunphy.

“I’d had to go and fetch Stan’s passport, I packed his bag and put it on. They all come on and I’m having a dig at them. I’m the captain, I’m the manager of Millwall at the time, so I’m saying ‘the bus is going, we need to go, we’ve a plane to catch’.

“Then, of course, yours truly gives me a mouthful, so I’ve gone to have a dig at him back. And we had to be split up. I was never intimidated by him. But that was it. We played in Hungary. Roy was amazing that game, you could see how could a player he was going to be. Without a doubt, he was one of the best players I’ve played with or managed.”

Keane has again been in the news recently as details of his run-in with Harry Arter and Jon Walters emerged through Stephen Ward’s leaked WhatsApp audio memo. 

The Corkman was evidently initially unhappy with the pair’s training arrangements as they tried to manage injuries. 

“I got on fine with him,” says McCarthy of his relationship with Keane immediately before Saipan. “There was some suggestion, that Roy made, that I couldn’t manage the team or players. I’d managed him for five years, I fucking spun his plate, I kept him going. ‘Roy, don’t come in on Monday. We played Saturday, you come in Tuesday’, so he’d come in on the Tuesday and then just go home. I don’t think he particularly liked being in, to be honest with you.

“I managed that situation, particularly well, managed all of them. It was all different characters, it’s not just about him and not just about me, there were a lot of other people in that squad, who should be respected for what they contributed to it, along with the two main protagonists.”

Roy Keane The pair in training in 2001. Source: INPHO

Reflecting on his role in the Saipan fall-out, McCarthy insists he checked out the Saipan pitch and the facilities were fit for what he envisaged on the island – a holiday for the players before getting down to business.

The pitch weren’t great. It was horrible,” he says. “The surface was crap, the kit didn’t turn up. That was it. I took them to Saipan for a holiday. Seriously. We went there for four days, and I let them off on the piss for two nights.

“I was not bothered about the surface. We were going to Isamu, and I’d been there and inspected that, they were five star facilities. So all we had to do for four days was go and have a little kickabout on the shitty pitch, and then we’d go to Japan to prepare. That was my modus operandi. If I didn’t let them go on the piss there, they would’ve done it in Japan. So I let them have a blowout, before we go, then we’re down to the serious business.

“When it happened, 16 years ago, I said at the time, one day I’ll be walking down the street in Barnsley, a flat cap on, ferret in my pocket, Jack Russel dog by the side of me, and someone will say ‘There’s that bollocks who sent Roy Keane home.’ And it’s pretty much turning out to be true, that, 16 years on.

“All the people who paid their money and wanted to go to the World Cup and wanted to see Roy there, as one of the best players – and, by the way, I wanted him there as much as anyone else did – but that relationship got broken.

“I’m not going to put blame on people, everybody has made their mind up, rightly or wrongly, I think it fluctuates. Having sent him home, I had to – because of us being a better team if he’s in it, playing well, and everything’s OK and the atmosphere’s alright, but it wasn’t – I offered the olive branch and asked him if to come back, and he refused.

Ireland Press Conference DIGITAL Alan Kelly, Niall Quinn, manager Mick McCarthy, FAI General Secretary Brendan Menton and Steve Staunton at a press conference to announce that captain Roy Keane will be leaving the World Cup. Source: INPHO

And though most imagine we would have got even further than the second round exit to Spain if the Manchester United skipper had been in midfield, McCarthy reckons this side would have been knocked out early. 

“I have thought about that, yeah. If we’d have had him in the frame of mind and mood that he was when we played against Holland, Portugal and Cyprus, then I agree with that. Having had him in the frame of mind that Roy appeared to be at the World Cup, we wouldn’t have got out of the group, no chance,” recalls McCarthy.

“I had this discussion with Sir Alex, I called him up because I always had a good relationship with him, and I wanted to maintain that, because I thought at the time the way the Manchester United machine moved, along with a lot of other people, would be to try to seriously discredit me because of what I’d done and my part in it. It’s a big old club to be taking on, so I didn’t want that.” 

“Alex said to me ‘you would’ve got to the semi final if Roy had been there’. I said ‘we wouldn’t have got out of the group, we’d have been coming out after three games’. So we agreed to disagree on that subject.

“So I did reflect on it, yes I have, but that is what I believe: we’d have been coming home and I would’ve been on my holidays a lot sooner.”

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