On this day 20 years ago: The Saipan incident occurs
Irish History

On this day 20 years ago: The Saipan incident occurs

ON THIS day in 2002, the Saipan incident, which resulted in then Republic of Ireland football captain Roy Keane being dismissed, occurred.

The incident was a public quarrel between Keane and manager Mick McCarthy while the team were preparing in Saipan for its matches in Japan in the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

While there, Keane was furious about the training conditions, and raised issues with the camp, travel arrangements (which seated the players in business class seats on flights while FAI officials sat in first class), strategy, expectations, diet and McCarthy's competence.

Keane told Tom Humphries of the Irish Times:

"You wonder why players get injured? Well, playing on a surface like that... It's rock hard. One or two of the lads have picked up injuries... But you know, we're the Irish team, it's a laugh and a joke."

The Irish Times article increased tensions greatly, with McCarthy deciding to question Keane about it.

In a team meeting McCarthy is said to have held up a copy of the article and asked "What's this all about?", and an argument started.

McCarthy then accused Keane of faking injury when Ireland were playing Iran in the second leg of the play off, which resulted in Keane unleashing a stinging verbal tirade against McCarthy: "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."

The following day at a press conference, McCarthy told reporter:

"I can't, will not tolerate the level of abuse that was thrown at me, so I have sent him home."

The incident caused a huge controversy in Irish football and society, with then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern being pressured into intervening.

Despite the efforts to intervene, Keane and McCarthy failed to resolve the conflict and Keane missed the World Cup.

Keane gave an interview concerning the controversy to RTÉ and when asked if it was possible to go back he did not deny that he might. However, the Irish football team were defeated in a penalty shootout by Spain in the second round.

A report was commissioned into Ireland's preparations in Saipan from external consultants Genesis. The report agreed with many of Keane's criticisms, finding that the FAI structure was not conducive to good planning and making a range of recommendations. The complete report was not published for legal reasons.

McCarthy continued as manager of Ireland until Brian Kerr took over in 2003, which saw Keane return to international football on 27 May 2004.

He played his final international game the following year, having been capped 67 times for the nation since 1991. He retired from playing at club level in 2006.

The pair appeared to reconcile in 2006 when the two men shook hands ahead of a match between McCarthy's Wolverhampton Wanderers and Keane's Sunderland.

In 2013, speaking in at ITV4 documentary, Keane admitted his regret at missing out on the 2002 World Cup:

"To play in the World Cup. It would have been nice to play, A lot of people were disappointed, particularly my family."