Niall Quinn’s Version of the Saipan Incident – 2002 World Cup
Niall Quinn’s autobiography contains the most extensive account of the events that led up to the most momentous event in Irish soccer – the Saipan incident. He also provides significant insight into how the rest of the players reacted after Roy Keane’s tirade directed at the Irish football manager Mick McCarthy.
Written in a manner that is largely sympathetic towards Roy Keane, Niall Quinn leaves the reader in no doubt that Mick McCarthy was not to blame for those events in the Far East. Quinn clearly indicts the FAI and the role, or perhaps the non-role, played by the Irish football authorities in events in May 2002. What is supposed to be his autobiography is in effect a commentary on Events in Saipan, Roy Keane and the Irish 2002 World Cup campaign – padded out by autobiographical information.
Build Up to Saipan
Keane’s No-Show at Quinn’s Charity Testimonial
In setting the scene for the events that were played out in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Saipan, Quinn presents us with his view of Roy Keane. He describes Keane as driven and obsessed by success, “He rails against failure and rages for success. Sometimes I wonder if he might even despise the rest of us for not having the same brooding, obsessive passion…”[Page 18-19].
However he dismisses any idea that he was angry with Keane for not turning up for Quinn’s testimonial match prior to the departure for Saipan. Quinn had been angry with Keane because he refused to work with Irish journalist Cathal Dervan on a piece for the charity testimonial programme, but he quickly got over that.
Quinn describes his “Oprah moment” with Roy Keane when he arrived in Dublin for the final friendly football match against Nigeria before departing for Saipan. In their hotel, a Holiday Inn, the Irish physio, Mick Byrne, asked Quinn to go with him to Keane’s room.
“I follow Mick down the corridor to Roy’s room. He’s sitting there, tense and uncomfortable, and he says to me, ‘No hard feelings. I thought Mick [McCarthy] knew.’ … ‘Yeah, Mick did know,’ I say. ‘It’s not a problem, Roy.’ I can see he’s embarrassed about this whole conversation so we keep it short, very short.”[Page 20]. Keane was less than pleased by the press coverage of his no-show at Quinn’s testimonial but it appears that there were no unresolved issues between the two Irish internationals.
Departure for Saipan – Chaos at Dublin Airport
Other accounts agree with Quinn’s description of the chaotic scenes in the departures lounge at Dublin Airport on that Friday, 17 May 2002. Masses of fans, a large media contingent, guys from a PR company dressed up as outsized leprechauns, and the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern using the occasion to grab, “…face time with the footballers.”[Page 24] There was an election on at the time. Quinn noted that Roy Keane was unhappy at having to manoeuvre his luggage through this scrum. “The flight was delayed. We’re all p***ed off but Roy is probably the only one among us that will bother fighting the battle.”[Page 24]
Unique Irish Approach to Competition Preparation
Quinn describes the somewhat laid back approach that the Irish have always taken. In stark contrast to the catalogue of issues that Roy Keane railed against his Tom Humphries interview in Saipan and his Paul Kimmage Interview, Niall Quinn feels that the less than perfect approach helps the Irish soccer team. In his autobiography he outlines that the sometimes unorthodox approach by successive Irish regimes creates a togetherness that works to the advantage of the Irish on the football pitch.
“We’re not buttoned down and rigid. We have a little wildness in us. We have a feel for the far side. We are professional footballers but we are a group of people, too, and bonding together is as important as training together.”[Page 45] Clearly Roy Keane did not share Quinn’s views.
Quinn said that Keane reacted badly when he discovered that the training gear had not yet arrived in Saipan and that the training pitch was bumpy. Quinn tried to reason with Keane, “Roy, it’s no big deal. C’mon, we’re all in this together. Let’s make the most of it. We’ll get through it. Have a laugh at it.”[Page 45]. Quinn says that Keane went to meet with Mick McCarthy to express his displeasure. It is clear from Niall Quinn’s book that, in common with Jason McAteer and Matt Holland who also wrote about events in Saipan, the training conditions and preparations were not so bad that any of the other players felt the need to complain.
Row over the Goalkeepers
Quinn states that the goalkeepers had been training “solidly for an hour” in the intense Saipan heat, “I notice Shay Given, drenched in sweat. He looks as though he’s just lost a stone in weight.”[Page 62]. Ian ‘Taff’ Evans was in charge of the training session. “Roy and Taff have never got along.” When Evans excused the goalkeepers from taking part in the seven-a-side match at the end of training “Roy pops a gasket. He has smoke coming from his ears… Roy begins the practice match in a foul mood….”[Page 63].
Quinn goes on to describe a bad tempered match in which the players didn’t hold back. Even though Roy Keane continued his rant about the lack of goalkeepers with goalkeeping coach, Packie Bonner, and reserve goalkeeper, Alan Kelly after the match Quinn didn’t think too much of it. “It’s not like Mount Vesuvius has just erupted … We have spats all the time at training and Roy’s mood has been dark all week. It’s a talking point but not a sensation.”[Page 64]
Roy Keane is Going Home – then he’s Staying
Quinn noticed Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy talking at a table in the Hyatt Regency gardens. Shortly afterwards an almost tearful Mick Byrne called to Quinn’s room, “Roy is going home.”[Page 65] Quinn said that he recommended that Mick McCarthy should contact Roy Keane’s agent Michael Kennedy (he was also Quinn’s agent).
Both Keane and Quinn have a very high regard and respect for Kennedy. Quinn says he thought about calling to Keane’s room but decided against it given Keane’s frame of mind.
Overnight Keane had a change of heart following phone contact with Michael Kennedy and Manchester United Manager, Alex Ferguson.
“I meet him at the door to the lifts first thing. ‘Well done, Roy,’ I say. ‘I’m really pleased you’re staying.’ He didn’t seem to notice me and walked straight past.”[Page 89]
On the day before the Irish squad was due to fly to the World Cup base in Izumo, Japan rumours had begun to circulate around the Hyatt Regency hotel that the Irish Times was about to publish a Roy Keane – Tom Humphries interview that would not make for pleasant reading. Quinn was not overly concerned, “… how sensational could an Irish Times interview be? It’s not tabloid country.”[Page 98]
Interestingly Quinn described Mick McCarthy’s demeanour before the contents of the interview became known. “This Roy business has disturbed him a bit but generally he’s been calm and serene for the past few days… He’s performing well under the circumstances.”[Page 99] Philip Quinn of the Irish Independent gave a copy of the Roy Keane interview to Mick McCarthy and shortly afterwards the Irish players were told to attend a team meeting at 7:30 that evening.
Meltdown in Saipan [Pages 100 to 103]
For the meeting Niall Quinn sat at a table with Roy Keane, Jason McAteer and Steve Finnan. Quinn described the mood as light. The players, including Keane, joined in singing along with the band. Mick McCarthy arrived and the band was asked to leave. Ironically the last song that the band played was Stand by Me. After going over a couple of routine logistical issues McCarthy “… unfurls Philip Quinn’s copy of the Irish Times article. ‘Roy I want to speak to you about…’ Suddenly, it’s gunfight at the OK Corral but Mick hasn’t brought his gun. Roy goes off, rat-a-tat-tat.”
Quinn does not go into graphic detail about precisely what was said or the language that was used by Roy Keane but he did say that it was , “…the most surgical slaughtering I’ve ever heard. Mick McCarthy is dismantled from A to Z – his personality, his play, his style, his tactics, his contribution. On it goes.” Quinn said the Saipan tirade lasted ten minutes with the veins on Keane’s temple standing out as he laid into McCarthy. The Irish manager struggled to get a word in. Nobody else intervened as they looked on “mesmerised “.
After almost ten minutes Quinn said that McCarthy finally managed to get a sentence out, “Did you pick and choose your matches Roy?” After Roy replied, “I don’t do f**king friendlies.” McCarthy followed up with, “…what about the second Iran game?” Note that Quinn does not mention anything of any accusation by McCarthy that ‘Roy Keane was faking injury’. ” ‘Positive result’ screams Roy, and he’s turning to go already. ‘What?’ ‘Positive result. Fergie, someone who knows how to manage a football team, said, and you agreed, that I wouldn’t go to the second leg if we got a positive result. We got a positive result.’ Silence. ‘I’ll f**k off then,’ Roy shouts as he gets to the door. ‘I’ll not go to the f**king World Cup. Now you have your excuse. It’s all Roy’s fault. See ye later lads.’ ” And he was gone.
Quinn emphasises that this final exchange was a product of Keane’s outburst and that he does not believe that McCarthy came to the meeting to raise the Iran match issue. “Probably it was unfair, and probably it was a mistake, but the previous nine minute contribution from Roy was all unfair and all a mistake. Nobody has cause to to be judgmental about what happened in the last thirty seconds of this debacle.” Quinn believes that McCarthy just wanted to address the specific points that Roy Keane had raised in the Tom Humphries interview within the confines of the Irish squad meeting. Instead he got drawn into a slanging match by Keane that culminated in Roy Keane’s exit from the 2002 World Cup.
NOTE: Unless stated otherwise all quotations are from:
Jason McAteer Version of Saipan Incident
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