July 12, 2024

Players Reaction to the Saipan Incident – 2002 World Cup


When the Irish captain Roy Keane finished his ten minute verbal demolition of the Irish soccer manager, Mick McCarthy, Keane stormed out of the meeting room in the Saipan Hyatt Regency hotel. According to Niall Quinn after “Roy Keane has just signed himself out.”[Page 103] he left “The rest of us pretty much in shock”[Page104]. In an impressive attempt at levity in such circumstances reserve goalkeeper Dean Kiely offered to do a job for McCarthy in midfield. His joke drew some nervous laughter however Quinn made it clear that the ferocity and intensity of Keane’s tirade had rocked the entire Republic of Ireland squad to it’s foundations.

In his his book Mick McCarthy : Ireland’s World Cup 2002 said that soon after Keane stormed out one of the players (he couldn’t remember as he was still in shock after the attack by Keane) led a round of applause in support of McCarthy. Quinn confirmed this in his autobiography, “Gary Kelly stands up … ‘Are we behind this man [McCarthy] or not?’ … Everyone claps.”[Page 104].

Apparently two players did not join in this applause. In his autobiography [Pages 269-270] Keane said that Gary Breen and David Connolly visited him in hotel room room 758 after the meeting and said that they agreed with what Keane had said. The also said that “We didn’t clap” when Gary Kelly led the applause.

There seems to be little doubt however that there was broad and genuine support for the beleaguered Mick McCarthy. The commentaries by the other players present make it clear that the Ireland and Manchester United captain’s outburst at the Irish manager was completely out of order and over the top. There has never been any sense of mutiny and any support by the players for Roy Keane does not seem to have been in evidence. To the contrary, both McCarthy and Quinn outlined that the players rallied around their manager. Those closest to the events in Saipan very quickly decided to support Mick McCarthy and not Roy Keane. “We can’t come up with an argument for Defending Roy Keane.”[Quinn – Page 105] “There was no justification for the way he reacted tonight…he was way offside” [Jason McAteer] “…the manager [had] absolutely no option but to send him [Keane] home.” [Matt Holland].

The First Press Conference

In a demonstration of support the senior players in the Republic of Ireland football squad, Niall Quinn, Stephen Staunton and Alan Kelly, decided to flank Mick McCarthy at the ensuing press conference. McCarthy called the press conference almost immediately after the meeting broke up. Held in a small Chinese restaurant in the hotel lobby, Mick McCarthy announced to a stunned media corp that he had sent Roy Keane home from the World Cup squad. Quinn, Staunton and Kelly waded in with their support stating that Keane had overstepped the mark and that he had left McCarthy with no choice but to send the Irish captain home.

The Campaign to Get Roy Back

There followed a frenzied period during which a number of people were working behind the scenes to find a way to get Manchester United’s captain Roy Keane back into the Irish World Cup set up. The FAI, the then Taoiseach – Bertie Ahern, Keane’s agent – Michael Kennedy, and others attempted to bring about a situation whereby the Irish soccer captain could rejoin the Irish squad in Japan. Following prompting from David Connolly Niall Quinn contacted Michael Kennedy, who was also agent to both Connolly and Quinn. “Michael thinks it can be done … I wander around the hotel, canvassing the team. It’s fair to say that their is no Roy bandwagon … [Mick McCarthy] tells me straight that he’ll have nothing to do with this.”[Page 131] Despite this Quinn continued to work on the players while Michael Kennedy continued talking to Keane. “I have the easy task and Michael has the hard task…I just have to persuade twenty-two hurt footballers and their manager. Michael has to get Roy into the starting gate.”[Page 134] Following much persuasion Quinn said that he had managed to turn the entire squad around “…even the diehards…” The main stumbling block was now McCarthy and he was determined that he couldn’t work with Keane again. Back in the UK Keane had given newspaper interviews including one to the Mail on Sunday in which he was highly critical of Quinn, Staunton and Kelly thus making a reconciliation more difficult despite Niall Quinn’s ongoing efforts in the Royal Hotel in Izumo. Quinn maintained regular contact with Michael Kennedy and he retained some optimism that a way could be found to get Roy Keane back into the Irish World Cup squad.

Roy Keane & Tommie Gorman Interview on RTE Television

When it is was announced that RTE television was going to air thirty minute Roy Keane – Tommie Gorman interview on Monday 27 May 2002 a nation waited with baited breath. Rumours abounded that the content of the interview would pave the way for a reconciliation between Keane and McCarthy. Despite Tommie Gorman’s hyperbole in advance of the broadcast Keane did not offer any apology or express any real regret for his words and deeds. In the midst of the media hype Mick McCarthy conducted a press conference on the steps of the Royal Hotel in Izumo at 8am on the Tuesday morning. Although he hadn’t seen the interview or read a transcript but he had been told by sources in Ireland that it had been conciliatory in tone. Feeling under pressure from the media feeding frenzy, the weight of Irish public opinion, and the promptings from his own players, McCarthy said that if Keane made direct contact with him and apologised he would accept Keane back into the squad.

About an hour after the press conference McCarthy finally got his hands on a copy of the Keane – RTE interview. and, ” …he doesn’t like it. He is quite agitated, as animated and angry as we have seen him throughout this whole thing … He says it’s over. Roy Keane is not coming back.”[Page 165] McCarthy told the players that he was going to call another press conference later that day to tell the media that he was putting and end to the whole saga. In his book, Mick McCarthy: Ireland’s World Cup 2002, the former Irish manager said, “I lay my position on the line and tell them [Irish players] I need to know where they stand. They were in the room in Saipan … In my mind it was unacceptable and I ask the players are they prepared to accept that kind of behaviour. And then I leave the room … All twenty-two players stay behind to to decide exactly what they are going to do.”[Page 204] In his autobiography Niall Quinn makes it clear that he was sure that McCarthy would have quit if the players persisted with their efforts to get Keane back. “We’ve pushed him as far as he can be pushed … I read Mick’s words as a message to me to leave it all alone, to stop interfering; otherwise he’ll be gone.”[Page 166]

Quinn said that every player was asked individually to express his opinion and without exception the all decided, “… to support Mick, even David Connolly, who initiated the bridge building with Roy.”[Page 166] The players drafted a statement to be read out after McCarthy’s press conference:

The manner of Roy’s behaviour prior to his departure from Saipan, and the comments attributed to him since, have left the staff and the players in no doubt that the interests of the squad are best served without Roy’s presence.

The players bear no malice towards Roy on a personal level and are looking forward to a successful World Cup campaign with continued support of our loyal supporters both home and abroad.

Premature Release of the Players Statement

According to both Quinn and McCarthy, the player’s statement which was meant to be issued after Mick McCarthy’s press conference, during which he would announce his decision that Roy Keane would not be accepted back into the Irish squad, was released prematurely due to FAI ineptitude. McCarthy’s planned press conference was delayed awaiting the arrival of the FAI’s Brendan Menton from Seoul in South Korea. Confusion became farce when Brendan McKenna of the FAI held his own press conference to update media on the injury situation within the Irish World Cup squad. He finished off by reading the player’s statement. The last that the media had heard from the Irish camp was that Mick McCarthy would accept Roy Keane back into the fold if the player apologised directly to McCarthy. Now it appeared that player-power had vetoed any attempt to bring Keane back. As Quinn said it made it look as though, “… Mick is a lame-duck manager.”[Page 169].

Quinn, who still retained hopes that Keane might contact the Irish manager to apologise, was now in a state of panic. He called Michael Kennedy in a frantic attempt to explain what had happened and that Keane should not be dissuaded from calling McCarthy by this FAI cock-up. This is very ironic since it was Keane’s perception of ineptitude within the Republic of Ireland set up that caused the Saipan incident in the first place. Kennedy undertook to achieve the impossible; to try to convince Roy Keane that the Irish players would be happy to have him rejoin the Irish World Cup squad in Japan despite the fact that they had just issued a press release expressing the the exact opposite.

Niall Quinn’s Press Conference

Quinn decided that he needed to face to press to explain the circumstances in which the players drew up their statement and how it had been released inadvertently. At 5pm he sat down to face “…twelve camera crews, maybe 150 journalists, and a table crammed with tape recorders, radio mikes and mini disc recorders.”[Page 170] He outlined the sequence of events that had led to this point. He also outlined the disappointment within the squad that Keane hadn’t taken the opportunity to apologise in the Tommie Gorman Interview and that the players were squarely behind McCarthy. Quinn also stated that the reaction of the fans back in Ireland had convinced the players to keep a re-entry route open for Keane if he was prepared to apologise. The Irish veteran offered to act as a peace broker between the Irish captain and the Irish manager. When Quinn got back to his hotel room he spoke to Michael Kennedy. “He’s spoken to Roy. There is still a chance. It’s alive.”[Page 172]

Mick McCarthy Changes his Mind Again

Following his conversation with Michael Kennedy, Niall Quinn visited Mick McCarthy’s room. Packie Bonner was there already. During the course of a 45 minute heated discussion Quinn tried to reassure McCarthy that he had the full support of the players but that because of the depth of public feeling it could be very damaging for the Irish manager if he was perceived to have slammed the door shut on any possible return of Roy Keane. Packie, who had initially been against any Keane return, was won over by Quinn’s argument. McCarthy also relented but still insisted that Keane must call to apologise. Quinn said “We are tired, overwrought. Mick cries. I cry. It’s not easy. It is not f**king easy. Finally, Mick says he will do his press conference, then he will come back and wait for the call.”[Page 173]

Mick McCarthy’s Press Conference

The press conference began at 8pm at the Izumo City Dome. Mick McCarthy, Ian Evans (Taff), Brendan Menton and Brendan McKenna were on the podium. “It’s a disaster. Brendan Menton, trying to keep the process alive, scuppers the conference when it becomes clear that for the first time in a week, Mick has a message he wants to get across. Mick wants to reassert that he’s in charge. Brendan wants him to say nothing. They come across as a Punch and Judy show.”[Page 173] McCarthy described it as the worst press conference he was ever involved in, ” … thinly veiled accusations are hurled at me. Some of the anti-McCarthyites … are having a field day. The venom and vitriol in the room is incredible. They are like animals in for the kill. It’s a frenzy.”[Mick McCarthy: Ireland’s World Cup 2002 – Pages 208-209] After just eleven minutes Brendan Menton called an end to proceedings.

That Call is Coming From Roy Keane

Back at the hotel Brendan Menton told McCarthy that Roy Keane would call the next morning. “It is definite now, according to Roy Keane’s advisors in their negotiations with FAI officials.”[Mick McCarthy: Ireland’s World Cup 2002 – Page 210] Quinn observed that, “Practically anything Roy says on the phone will force Mick to have him back. Roy just has to tell the world that he made that call. He has won.”[Page 174] Ian Evans went to the rest of the players to find out their thoughts. Quinn and McCarthy both said that the players agreed to Keane’s return as they just wanted to get this whole saga finished. Quinn said that he felt great now that the McCarthy and the squad had delivered on their side now it was just up to Roy to call. At 3:30am in Izumo the phone did ring. It was Michael Kennedy, “It’s over, Niall … We’re going to issue a statement. Roy is not going to apologise.”[Page 175]

Roy Keane’s Statement

In the interests of all genuine supporters of Irish football I believe that the time has arrived when I should bring to a conclusion the continuing speculation with regard to my participation in the World Cup and for the players to concentrate fully on their preparations for the competition free from all further distraction

Whilst I appreciate all the support which I have received and all the efforts which have been made by a number of people on behalf of all parties involved in this unfortunate matter, I do not consider that the best interests of Irish football will be served by my returning to the World Cup.

The damage has been done. I wish the team and management all the best and they will have my full support throughout the competition. I urge all the people of Ireland to give their entire support to the team. I do not feel that any useful purpose will be served by my making any further comment.

And with that statement so ended the great efforts of many people to get Roy Keane back into the Republic of Ireland 2002 World Cup squad in Japan.


The Irish players in the 2002 World Cup squad rode a giant roller coaster that began on Friday, 17 May 2002 with Roy Keane complaining bitterly about about conditions at Dublin Airport, and ended with Keane’s statement above on Wednesday 29 May 2002. As some of the players have commented, it appears that Keane just didn’t want to be in the Far East at all. Matt Holland said, he pretty much complained about everything from the off and most of it was petty stuff. None of the other players appear to have joined in with his complaints. In his interviews with Tom Humphries and Paul Kimmage he questioned the commitment and desire of his international colleagues, accusing them of settling for second best. This seems to have genuinely angered a number of the other players.

The players were left speechless and stunned after Keane’s tirade directed at his Irish team manager. Those players that have commented on the events of that night in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Saipan are unanimous that the Irish soccer captain was completely in the wrong. No players have ever criticised Mick McCarthy for his words or actions during that fateful team meeting. In the immediate aftermath of the meeting the players unanimously agreed to fully support their manager, although Roy Keane has stated that David Connolly and Gary Breen were less than fulsome in this support.

Inspired by Connolly, Niall Quinn began a well-intentioned, but misguided, campaign to find a way to get Keane back into the Irish World Cup soccer squad. The players supported this campaign in recognition of Keane’s footballing prowess and due to the public clamour back in Ireland. It was not an attempt to undermine Irish manager Mick McCarthy. Equally the premature release of the above players statement was not attempt to force their will upon McCarthy. Regardless of the intentions of the players their actions and statements did ultimately undermine their manager’s authority.

Despite an appallingly distressing build up to their participation in the World Cup the players performed above all expectations on the soccer pitches in the Far East. Even in the absence of the World class Roy Keane the Republic of Ireland just missed out on a quarter-final place when the team lost to Spain in a penalty shoot-out. Keane’s absence from the team was certainly not due to a lack of effort or conciliation by the players in Japan. Niall Quinn acknowledged that everyone involved in the Saipan affair made mistakes, ” … but only the smallest movement [by Roy Keane] was necessary to put them right – one hard swallow, one short call. We all talk about how we’d do anything to play for our country, for the honour, the privilege and the glory, how we’d die for the green jersey. Well we wouldn’t, not all of us. We know that now.”[Page 175]

NOTE: Unless stated otherwise all quotations are from:
Niall Quinn: The Autobiography; Niall Quinn (2002); Headline Book Publishing

FAI Involvement in Saipan Incident

Back to Saipan Affair Table of Contents – Irish Football

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Saipan Table of Contents Roy Keane & Eamon Dunphy
Saipan Introduction Roy Keane & Cork
Methodology Keane’s Aversion to Being Away From Home
Saipan Conclusions Roy Keane’s Relationship with Ireland
Roy Keane – Mick McCarthy Relationship Roy Keane – Zenith Data Systems Cup
Roy Keane Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Jack Charlton Relationship
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 1 Roy Keane’s Flawed Character
Mick McCarthy Version of Saipan Incident 2 Roy Keane’s Good Character
Niall Quinn Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Footballer
Jason McAteer Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Team Captain
Matt Holland Version of Saipan Incident Roy Keane – Family Man
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Backdrop Roy Keane & Faking Injury
Roy Keane & Saipan – The Issues Roy Keane – Bad Boy
Keane / McCarthy Boston Row 1992 Roy Keane – Career Lows
Keane Misses Iran Playoff Game Roy Keane – Red Cards etc
Keane Misses Niall Quinn Testimonial Roy Keane – Cruciate Injury
Countdown to Saipan Incident Roy Keane & Alf-Inge Haaland
Roy Keane Saipan Tirade at Mick McCarthy Roy Keane & Gareth Southgate Red Card
Roy Keane / Tom Humphries Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Alan Shearer Red Card
Keane / Humphries Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane / Alex Ferguson Relationship 1
Roy Keane / Irish Times Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Sir Alex Ferguson 2
Roy Keane / Paul Kimmage Saipan Interview 1 Roy Keane & Charity
Keane / Kimmage Saipan Interview 2 Roy Keane & Autobiography Contradictions 1
Roy Keane / Sunday Independent Saipan Interview 3 Roy Keane & Contradictions 2
Roy Keane / Tommie Gorman Interview 1 Roy Keane – Integrity
Roy Keane / Tommy Gorman Interview 2 Roy Keane – International Matches
Roy Keane / RTE Interview 3 Roy Keane – Football Record
FAI Involvement in Saipan Affair Roy Keane & Sandwiches
Saipan Reaction of Irish Players Roy Keane – Walker
Mick McCarthy – ‘crap player, crap manager’ Saipan – Pacific Island
Roy Keane / Mick McCarthy Playing Record I Keano – The Musical
Colin Healy – Forgotten Man of Saipan Roy Keane – Football Manager
Saipan Ten Years Later Roy Keane’s Dog Triggs
Roy Keane’s Autobiography Saipan Bibiliography


Roy Keane – View Seven Years After Saipan
Football Quotes about Saipan


Triggs – The Autobiography of Roy Keane’s Dog
Ireland at 2002 World Cup Finals – Irish 2002 World Cup Squad – Irish Group Matches
Ireland V Cameroon – Ireland V Germany – Ireland V Saudi Arabia – Ireland V Spain