Jason McAteer’s Version of the Saipan Incident
Irish international footballer Jason McAteer won 52 caps for the Republic of Ireland scoring three goals. His most memorable goal for Ireland was in the 1-0 win over Holland at Lansdowne Road (renamed the Aviva Stadium) in a crucial 2002 World Cup qualifier.
This Account is taken from Jason McAteer’s World Cup Diary – Independent.ie
Jason McAteer’s 2002 World Cup Dairy, as published in the Irish Independent provides an interesting contemporaneous insight into some of the aspects surrounding the infamous Saipan incident involving Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy. McAteer and Keane had never been particularly close yet he found that the Irish soccer team captain was in an unusually talkative and even friendly mood despite the news about the missing gear and the poor state of the training pitch in Saipan.
Calm before the Storm
Sunday : The morning after the Republic of Ireland World Cup squad arrived in Saipan Jason McAteer and Roy Keane went for a stroll along the beach “…chatting away like we had been mates for years.” McAteer seems to suggest that Keane was quite relaxed and makes no mention of Roy complaining about the fact that the training gear hadn’t arrived. “Mick stood up at a meeting last night (Saturday) and said he was sorry (about the absent training gear) and that’s a god quality in the man because it’s not his fault.”
Monday : Once again McAteer paints a picture of a very relaxed Roy Keane. On the beach again the two talk in a light-hearted manner as McAteer does a critique of the Manchester United team. There is no mention of Keane complaining about anything.
Storm Clouds Gather – Roy Keane is Heading Home from Saipan
Tuesday : Jason McAteer describes a tetchy training session. Everyone appeared to be moaning and irritable exchanges were breaking out amongst the players. None of it was too serious – except with Roy Keane. There are no keepers available for the nine-a-side game “…so we had to put a player on each line, which is obviously not ideal. Roy lost the head when it is over.” McAteer described a heated exchange between Roy Keane and goalkeeping coach Packie Bonner. Then Keane and reserve goalkeeper Alan Kelly got involved with each other. “Everything is black or white with Roy…He wants the best for the squad…I admire him for it…But I don’t understand his rage…I knew were heading for trouble.”
When Keane didn’t appear at an arranged barbecue McAteer called up to his room. Keane invited him in and McAteer asked was everything OK. No it wasn’t. “We’ve just got to get on with it now.” McAteer encouraged. “But he just looked at me with a smirk. ‘You’re not going home…?’ ‘Yeah, four o’clock tomorrow.’ I didn’t believe him.”
When McAteer went downstairs in the hotel the technical staff were running backwards and forwards frantically. “There were hushed conversations in every corner. Mick Byrne was sitting with Mick McCarthy. Mick looked gutted. ‘He’s not going home is he?’ I asked. ‘Yeah…tomorrow'”.
Back in his room McAteer told his room mate Stephen Staunton the bad news. “At first he was really angry. ‘The f**king idiot. F**k him’ … He…went to see Quinny…”
Roy Keane ‘The Messiah’ Changes his Mind
Wednesday : McAteer was in the treatment room having his ankle strapped before training. A meeting for the team had been called for nine o’clock. Roy Keane walked into the treatment room. “I asked ‘Are you training?’ He seemed angry…’You all just go with the flow’, he spat. ‘What do you mean?’… ‘Dead fish’ he said. I thought ‘Wow! P-R-O-F-O-U-N-D. The messiah has spoken.’ And then he walked out of the room.”
McAteer said that it was all very normal after that. At the meeting Mick McCarthy apologised again for the missing gear and the state of the training pitch and encouraged everyone to focus on the future. “John F Kennedy couldn’t have said it better.”
Meltdown in Saipan
Thursday : McAteer became aware that there were problems brewing in the afternoon. The rumours that Keane had “…had a go…” in a newspaper interview were confirmed when Philip Quinn, of the Irish Independent, let McAteer see a copy of it. “…one line jumped out:’The players accept the things they do and that’s why they’re at the level they’re at.’ I thought: ‘What does this guy really think of us?’ I was disappointed. I felt let down.” McAteer said that he understood Keane speaking up about the missing gear and the poor pitch – “…it’s for…the team’s benefit…Was he thinking of the team when he had a go at us in print? What was his motive?”
McAteer described a row between him and Graeme Souness, his former manager at Blackburn Rovers. McAteer claimed his “…career was on the line.” So he had a motive for a “vicious” row with Souness. It wasn’t as vicious as the argument between Keane and McCarthy on that Thursday evening. A meeting had been called after the evening meal. McCarthy arrived with a copy of the article. Keane was asked to explain his comments in the Tom Humphries Saipan interview. “And the rest was nasty. He said some strange and hurtful things..for our benefit. Things like: ‘You’re just looking for an excuse for when Ireland do bad so you can say ‘Well Roy Keane was sent home’…And I thought: ‘…We haven’t really earned the right to be here. We owe it all to Roy. And Roy thinks we’re s**t. I do not understand why Roy was so angry. There was no justification for the way he reacted tonight…he was way offside. Mick had no option but to send him home.” After Keane left the room McCarthy addressed the team urging everyone to pull together and draw strength from the experience.
McAteer called to Keane’s room later that evening. Keane opened the door. “There was someone in there with him. ‘I don’t want to speak to you’ ” McAteer said that he only called to shake Keane’s hand and wish him well. Keane shook hands through the door opening and wished McAteer good luck and then shut the door.
Matt Holland Version of Saipan Incident
Back to Saipan Affair Table of Contents – Irish Football
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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