Do you remember the second civil war? Of course you do, unless you’re under the age of 14, and even then, you still probably know all about the events in Saipan that divided the country down the middle, with half of the Irish people rallying behind Mick McCarthy and the rest behind the upstart Roy Keane.
I was on the Keane side because I thought the entire fiasco represented a monumental failure of management.
Ultimately, McCarthy failed to put his most influential player on the pitch. He handled the entire affair in a clumsy way and he backed Keane into a corner with his ludicrous carpeting of the player in front of everyone from the first team to the ball-boys.
And what exactly was Keane’s crime that led to McCarthy’s very public scolding? Simple: he believed. He was in Saipan with a view to winning the World Cup, and while you might think his ambition was ludicrous, at least he took the trip seriously, unlike many of his fellow players who were there for the party, and unlike most of the FAI blazers, who couldn’t care less if Ireland won or lost once they managed to get themselves on the junket. These were the characters who flew first class while the players had to endure cramped, bargain-basement seating for the duration of the enormous journey.
When the squad arrived in Saipan, their training ground was made of hard-baked clay where a fall meant injury, and where the very act of running damaged knees, hips and backs. The bumbling FAI couldn’t even manage to deliver footballs to the players for the training sessions, and to make matters even worse, many of the players thought the Saipan sojourn was a holiday and took the opportunity to go on the piss and sample local hospitality of every variety.
Keane blew his top because he was there to win the World Cup, absurd as that ambition might have seemed to everyone else, and he couldn’t see any intention on the part of the management to strive for that goal.
Keane didn’t share the view of the management, the blazers and many of the players, that getting to the knock-out stages would be Ireland’s World Cup. He wouldn’t settle for second best and when he let the management know just how shoddy their arrangements were, he was punished. Of course it was wrong of him to give an interview to the Irish Times, but it was born out of frustration, and McCarthy’s response simply exacerbated what was already a tense situation.
The very public carpeting of Keane was a humiliation he could not tolerate. He exploded in the most predictable way, as anyone but Mick McCarthy would have known , and at the time I agreed with his point of view, even though I hoped he’d change his mind.
It’s this simple. The manager failed to deal with a difficult situation, and by that failure, set in train a series of fully foreseeable events that resulted in Ireland losing its most influential player.
Well, he’s back, and I can’t wait to see what the reaction is. He’s back in partnership with Martin O Neill, and now we have two Cloughie alumni managing Ireland.
Can it be worse than the stultifying Trappatoni regime? Hardly. That old guy took the money but didn’t run. In fact, he barely rose out of his armchair for his entire tenure, not even bothering to watch the players in action. I suppose he was laughing so hard all the time, when he wasn’t counting his wages, it wasn’t easy to book a flight to London or Manchester or – Heaven forfend – Liverpool. And for the insanely huge money, Trappatoni produced the most boring, unimaginative football ever. He wouldn’t try new players. He wouldn’t diverge from his rigid game plan, to the extent that on the one occasion the players rebelled, in 2009, they ran rings around France and only lost the World Cup qualifier thanks to cheating by Thierry Henry. Ironically, Roy Keane defended Henry’s hand ball, saying that anyone would have tried it.
Who came before Trappatoni? The Gaffer, that’s who. Steve Staunton, one of the players who publicly defended McCarthy’s actions at Saipan was rewarded with the manager’s position, though the ham-fisted FAI, as usual, couldn’t do it properly and appointed Bobby Robson as mentor to the new boy, forcing him to announce publicly, in one of the most cringe-inducing moments ever, that he was The Gaffer.
The Gaffer done bad, poor Bobbby got sick, and that was that.
Before The Gaffer? Brian Bleedin’ Kerr. A decent man, an earnest enough manager and a good thinker of the youth game, but more suited to the Faroe Islands than Ireland.
So, what of the future? Over dinner this evening, the subject came up, as these things tend to do, and my beloved son made it clear that he hates Roy Keane.
Fair enough. Being the reasonable, rational young man that he is, he went on to say that he was delighted with the appointment because at least, if it all ends in disaster, at least they’ll do it with style, and I know what he means. Are we going to spend the rest of eternity creeping to ignominious defeat or will we go out battling? Will we cling to the Trappatoni style of cautious, boring, miserable and mechanical system-football, or will we see a re-energised Irish squad, out there taking chances, giving vent to their creativity and actually, for once, enjoying themselves?
We’ll be hearing a lot about the good-cop – bad-cop double act that Martin and Roy engage in, but let’s not make any mistake. Martin O Neill is a tough operator when he wants to be, and Roy Keane, for all his many faults, is somebody that young players look up to. I think the dynamic of this pairing is just about right, and I think they might manage to change the game.
These two boys both came through the Brian Clough academy and, you know, if the ghost of Cloughy lingers over this, there’s bound to be fun.