Remembering the Infamous Roy Keane vs Mick McCarthy 2002 Bust Up

Having navigated a difficult qualifying group – finishing ahead of Holland – to book their place in the playoffs, where they secured victory over Iran, the Republic of Ireland were heading to just their third World Cup in the country’s history in 2002.

Unfortunately, what should have been a thoroughly enjoyable summer was completely overshadowed by an off the pitch bust up that took place before a ball was even kicked.

On 21 May 2002, just 10 days before the Republic of Ireland’s opening group fixture against Cameroon, captain and talisman Roy Keane was sent packing by manager Mick McCarthy.

The team were in Saipan preparing for the tournament. On day one of the camp, Keane, accustomed to the high standards demanded by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, was left frustrated after the first training session due to the facilities and general lack of organisation.

On day two, Keane announced he was quitting the squad because he was so unimpressed by the pre-tournament preparation. A flight home to Manchester was arranged for him the following day and Colin Healy was called up as his replacement. However, McCarthy managed smooth things over, talk him round and persuade him to stay.

It was just a bump in the road. Harmony had been restored. The pair were ready to head to the World Cup together, arm in arm.

As Republic of Ireland manager, McCarthy ran a tight ship. He had a strict media ban in place, with players not allowed to speak to the press.

But we all love a bad boy, don’t we?

Keane gave an interview to the Irish Times. The Manchester United midfielder provided a less than complementary assessment of the Football Association of Ireland, their training facilities in Saipan and the country’s World Cup preparations.

Ten days before their opening World Cup match.

“It’s different if we came here to a top training facility,” Keane said [via the Mirror]. “The hotel is fine, but we’ve come here to work. You wonder why players get injured? Well, playing on a surface like that.

“I can’t imagine any other country, countries in the world who are far worse off than us, playing on something like that.

“But you know, we’re the Irish team, it’s a laugh and a joke. We shouldn’t expect too much.”

Ten days before their opening World Cup match.

You just can’t imagine that nice boy off of Sky Sports being so critical, can you?

The interview was brought to McCarthy’s attention. He confronted Keane about it in a team meeting, things got heated, and he went on to accuse Keane of faking an injury during Ireland’s playoff campaign.

Not one to mince his words, Keane replied: “You’re a f**king w**ker. I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager and I don’t rate you as a person. You’re a f**king w**ker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. I’ve got no respect for you. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country! You can stick it up your b****cks.”

McCarthy did not take too kindly to that.

A press conference was called and the Republic of Ireland manager announced that Keane was being sent home.

The bust up is etched into Irish football history as ‘the Saipan Incident’.

The Republic of Ireland would go on to reach the last 16 of the World Cup, before crashing out to Spain on penalties, while Keane spent the summer walking his dog.

McCarthy and Keane have since shaken hands and made up.

Remarkably, the pair have made a habit of following each other to different managerial vacancies throughout their careers; Keane was McCarthy’s replacement at Sunderland, and a year after the former Manchester United midfielder had been sacked by Ipswich, McCarthy was in the Portman Road hot seat. Keane then took the Republic of Ireland assistant manager’s job in 2013, and McCarthy was back in charge of the national team in 2018.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery.


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