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'Saipan? It’s something that you always see when it's on Reeling in the Years'

Amid the reflections and memories on the 20th anniversary, The42 asked 10 Irish footballers born around that time what the controversy means to them.

Roy Keane was the centre of the world 20 years ago.
Roy Keane was the centre of the world 20 years ago.
Image: INPHO

SAIPAN WILL ALWAYS be a part of Irish football history.

What happened on that island in the Pacific Ocean prior to the 2002 World Cup continues to divide.

Even now, 20 years on, there will be those in the Roy camp and those flying the flag for Mick.

But does it still matter?

Amid all the reflections and memories, The42 asked 10 young Irish footballers born around that time what Saipan means to them now.


Brian Maher – Derry City and Republic of Ireland Under-21 goalkeeper
Age: 21

I would have heard about it from older family and friends, they said what a good time it was for Ireland at the 2002 World Cup – apart from what happened at Saipan.

We probably hear about it all the time because we haven’t got to a World Cup since and it’s something that you always see when it’s on Reeling in the Years on RTÉ.
It’s one of the biggest things that’s happened in Irish sport.

How mad is it that Roy Keane left, or did he leave? Was he told to go? I’m a Celtic fan but I’m too young to remember his best years. My Dad supports Leeds but he doesn’t really hold grudges. It’s hard to know what actually happened – but he’s never seen anything like it.

brian-maher-celebrates-winning Derry and Ireland goalkeeper Brian Maher. Source: Johan Volkanen/INPHO

Jack Moylan – Shelbourne forward
Age: 20

Roy Keane walked out before the first game. The facilities were brutal, the training pitch was something like St Anne’s Park [in Dublin]. I’m a Liverpool fan and you always hear from older lads that Keane left us when we needed him most.

At the same time, if it wasn’t up to standard or good enough to prepare for a World Cup then fair enough.

But if Ireland qualified now and one of the main lads walked out because of standards I’d be going ‘the neck of ye, what are ye doing?’ If you are lucky enough to even have the chance to be there then take it.

I would have hated him if it happened now but you have to think of the levels he was at and what he demanded. I’d say Duffer (Shels boss Damien Duff) has the actual insight and stuff that wasn’t leaked but I’d say it’s best that’s to leave that for another day with Duffer!

jack-moylan-celebrates-scoring-the-first-goal Shelbourne's Jack Moylan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Promise Omochere – Bohemians striker

I actually don’t know what happened at all. I’m sorry if that doesn’t help!

[The42 explains the general detail]

OK. No, I didn’t realise. It’s the first time I’ve heard the story and what had happened. I never heard anything about it to be honest. It does sound interesting.

Dawson Devoy – Bohemians and Republic of Ireland Under-21 midfielder
Age: 20

The whole story of it is a bit mad and the reasons why he walked out. Obviously you don’t know what really went on but to walk out on a tournament like that?

I’m a United fan and it would have been heart breaking. Thankfully I was too young. The player he was, the character he was, he’s the only one who would have done that.

Luke Rudden – Finn Harps striker
Age: 19

I watched an interview Gary Neville did with Roy Keane recently and learned a bit more about it then. He asked 50 questions. I already knew what my Dad told me, and he doesn’t like Roy Keane.

I never got to see him play but most of the people where I’m from, they are either Manchester United supporters or ‘Anyone but United’. My Mum supports them and she likes Roy Keane, my Dad doesn’t. I just stay out of it.

luke-rudden-and-paddy-kirk Finn Harps' Luke Rudden. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Danny Mandroiu – Shamrock Rovers forward
Age: 23

Ah, now I wouldn’t have a clue about that! You hear some stuff growing up but that’s it. We didn’t talk about it growing up. You see stuff on YouTube but I wouldn’t look back too much into what happened then.

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andy-lyons Shamrock Rovers defender Andy Lyons. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Andy Lyons – Shamrock Rovers and Republic of Ireland defender
Age: 21

I was one and a half! My uncle (the late sports broadcaster Johnny Lyons) and dad were football mad. I think it was five or six years ago that I went to see I, Keano, the show at the Olympia about Saipan. The actors were all gladiators. That was funny because by that point we had been told bits and pieces.

My uncle Johnny was a bit more forceful in his ways than my Dad and he couldn’t believe what went on.

Darragh Burns – St Patrick’s Athletic and Republic of Ireland Under-21 winger
Age: 19

My Mam and Dad were young and they went out with their Mam and Dad to the pub to watch that World Cup. They said it was a great occasion for the country, but it was a bit dramatic what happened.

Roy Keane is still a national hero and they were his feelings on the whole lot at the time. When my Mam and Dad told me what happened in Saipan I couldn’t believe that he was captain and walked out. It’s a mad one.

James Abankwah – St Patrick’s Athletic defender (joining Udinese this summer)
Age: 18

Honestly, no. I’d never heard about it. I know Roy Keane. He is the aggressive, angry guy.

darragh-burns-during-the-warm-up St Pat's winger Darragh Burns. Source: Johan Volkanen/INPHO

James Clarke – Drogheda United midfielder
Age: 20

My Dad still talks about it and says Ireland could have gone even further in the tournament. It’s the last time we got to the World Cup which is probably why it’s still such a big deal.

I could never understand why he walked out on us. He was one of the best midfielders in the world at that time and Ireland don’t get many of them. I suppose he did have a point talking about the set-up, but did he approach it in the wrong way?

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