Recalling Saipan and the bust-up which split Ireland in two in 2002 while passing through the seaside resort of Deauville

(#02 – Top 10 Highlights from 2016 Tour de Travoy) The photo above shows the Irish football team’s manager Mick McCarthy and Irish captain Roy Keane at a training session in Saipan, a small island in the Pacific Ocean. Ireland had gone to Saipan to acclimatize before flying onto Japan and South Korea for the World Cup in 2002. Ireland were making their third appearance at a World Cup finals having also qualified for Italy in 1990 and the USA in 1994. Before both those World Cup tournaments, the Irish team would have spent maybe a week or so at a training camp. But nobody in Ireland would remember nowadays where the training camps in 1990 or 1994 took place but everybody in Ireland knows about the training camp in 2002. Saipan is not that far from the Bikini Atoll where the Americans conducted numerous nuclear bomb tests in the 40’s and 50’s. Ireland has never tested nuclear weapons in the Pacific or anywhere else but the bust-up between Keane and McCarthy was the Irish equivalent of a nuclear explosion. The shockwaves from Saipan reverberated around the world and the fallout from what was the most divisive issue in Ireland since the Civil War in the 1920’s, still has repercussions to this day almost 15 years later.


Irish flag on roundabout at the holiday resort of Deauville. The large town of Deauville is a famous seaside resort in France and many French people have holiday homes in the town. It is famous too for it’s horse racing and that may explain why the Irish flag was displayed alongside the Normandy flag on the main roundabout in the town. There are many Irish people involved in horse racing and some may even have holiday homes in Deauville. But the town’s most famous Irish resident has very little to do with horse racing. Eamonn Dunphy is a sports journalist and often appears on TV in Ireland as a football pundit. For a long time, he has had a holiday home in the town and it is here where he wrote his famous biography of Roy Keane, the Manchester United and Irish footballer, which was published in 2002.

Roy Keane’s first autobiography which was ghostwritten by Eamon Dunphy. Eamon had probably been working on an autobiography of Roy Keane for a few years when he would have arrived here in Deauville in July 2002 to finish the book off. The autobiography was probably first discussed in 1999 after Manchester United won the Treble of the  League, FA Cup and Champions League and it was due for publication in the autumn of 2002 after the World Cup in Japan. In April 2002, Eamon would have had most of the book wrote apart from a few minor updates depending on how Ireland did in the World Cup. Dunphy would have been contracted to RTE television for the duration of the World Cup but he probably was looking forward to his summer holidays, which would have started when the tournament finished on June the 30th. He probably anticipated spending his summer vacation at his holiday home in Deauville polishing off the book while sipping calvados in the French sunshine. But then in May 2002, all hell broke loose at the Ireland training camp in Saipan in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Saipan is a popular holiday destination for Japanese tourists and it was chosen to be Ireland’s training base a week before the FIFA World Cup started in Japan. The island was famous for a bloody battle in World War 2 but most Irish people would not have known about the island prior to 2002. But that is not the case today as nearly every Irish person knows about Saipan and still remembers what they were doing that fateful week in May 2002.

Saipan May 2002. For the benefit of foreign readers, I will now attempt to summarize what happened in Saipan but anyone who wants chapter and verse on what was probably the most divisive issue in Ireland since the Civil War in the 1920’s be sure to read Soccer Ireland’s excellent synopsis on their website. Their website is the most comprehensive account of any incident I have ever come across online and a copy of their website deserves to be in the National Archives. But in short what happened in Saipan is that Ireland’s captain Roy Keane was sent home by Ireland’s manager Mick McCarthy after a huge row a week before the World Cup in 2002. Initially most people in Ireland supported Mick McCarthy but thanks in no small part to Eamon Dunphy, public opinion in Ireland slowly began to change after he took Roy Keane’s side in the dispute. The huge row between Keane and McCarthy had occurred during a team meeting to discuss an interview Roy had given to Tom Humphries of the Irish Times. I remember reading this interview 3 times word for word trying to figure out what was in the interview that had triggered the bust up. Roy had threatened to leave Saipan 2 days earlier and is critical of the team’s facilities and preparation’s but nowhere in the article does he single out Mick McCarthy. The criticism in Tom Humphries article was relatively tame and perfectly reasonable so that is why I took Roy’s side in the dispute. Had Keane been scathing of the manger and his coaching staff, then I would have taken McCarthy’s side as you can’t have a player undermining a manager’s authority a week before a major tournament. But I repeat, at no stage in Keane’s interview does he single out McCarthy or his staff for criticism though he does blame the FAI for the poor facilities. But he is justified in this criticism as everybody agreed that the training pitch in Saipan was poor or as Roy put it “it was like training on a car park”.

Roy Keane leaving Saipan. But looking back at the whole incident again, 15 years later, there is no doubt that Roy acted the maggot during his few days in Saipan. He was in a foul mood the whole time and then had a blazing row with reserve goalkeeper Alan Kelly during a 5 a side practice match on Tuesday afternoon. Alan Kelly is regarded as one of the soundest ever Irish players and the last person you would expect to get caught up in a row with Roy. But that silly stupid row set off a chain of events which ultimately led to Keane being sent home. First, Keane went to see McCarthy that evening asking to be allowed to go home for “personal reasons” But then overnight Roy changed his mind after talking to Alex Ferguson and others and the following morning agreed to stay with the Irish team. The 23 man Irish squad had to be faxed to FIFA by 08.00 on Wednesday morning and Roy only confirmed he was staying at 07.57, 3 minutes before the deadline. There had been 2 teamsheets beside the fax machine, one with Roy’s name on it and another one with Colin Healy’s name on it (who was on standby back in Ireland). Mick McCarthy faxed the 23 man squad with Roy Keane’s name on it only to discover someone from the FAI had faxed the same teamsheet to FIFA half an hour earlier. McCarthy would have been raging inside at being undermined in such a blatant fashion as it is the manager’s job to pick the players in his team. McCarthy was probably still seething with the FAI when he got a copy of Tom Humphries interview with Roy Keane the next day on Thursday afternoon. The interview was not due to be printed until Saturday but a decision had been taken to publish it in Thursday’s edition of the Irish Times as events were moving fast in Saipan. After reading the interview, McCarthy then decided to call a team meeting for 19.30 that evening and the rest is history. Personally I believe that that McCarthy was more angry with the FAI for faxing the teamsheet than with anything Roy said in his interview. In my opinion, he may have called the team meeting knowing it would almost certainly provoke Roy and that in turn would make the FAI hierarchy look like fools in their efforts to keep Roy in the squad. Singling out Roy in such a public manner knowing his mental state would have been similar to waving a red flag at a bull. Mick would have been quite happy for Roy to have gone home (as Roy himself had requested on Tuesday) because he had been such a disruptive influence on the team and McCarthy was almost certainly opposed to the FAI efforts to keep Roy in the squad. In my opinion, there is nothing that Roy said in either the Tom Humphries interview or Paul Kimmage’s article the following Sunday  to cause a public team meeting to be called so there must have been some other agenda at play.  Mick McCarthy in his autobiography says he arrived at the hotel to find Roy Keane singing “Stand By Me” with some of the other Irish players and he had second thoughts about going through with the meeting. Mick could have pulled Roy to one side and talked to him in private as had happened 2 days earlier on the Tuesday when Roy told McCarthy he wanted to go home for “personal reasons“. It was well known that McCarthy and Keane had never got on even when they played together under Jack Charlton but Roy had agreed to stay with the squad on Wednesday morning eventhough he was very unhappy with the facilities and with life in general. Who knows if McCarthy had met with Keane that evening in private, almost certainly Keane would have gone to Japan and Ireland could have gone on to win the World Cup as most of the other teams in the competition were not that great. But McCarthy decided instead to have a public meeting which resulted in Keane going ballistic and then being sent home. It was very poor man management on Mick McCarthy’s part and ultimately it would lead to him losing the Irish manager’s job just 5 months later.

Roy Keane after being sent home from Saipan. After Roy Keane arrived home, he did an interview with Tommy Gorman on RTE, which resulted in a clamor for Roy to be flown back to Japan for the World Cup. Apparently, one of Ireland’s richest men, JP McManus had a private jet on standby should a deal be reached between Keane and McCarthy. But all these efforts came to naught and Keane spent the World Cup walking his dog Triggs outside his home in Cheshire not even watching the Irish games. Ireland actually did quite well in the 2002 World Cup and qualified for the knockout stage only to be beaten by Spain on penalties. Shortly afterwards when the World Cup was over, Eamon Dunphy would have arrived here in Deauville in July 2002, with the realization that large parts of his book would have to be re-written.  I can just imagine the scenes here in Deauville as Dunphy struggled to re-write his draft and put into words just what had just happened the last month or 2 in Roy Keane’s life.


Deauville harbour. Somehow I don’t think that Dunphy would have done much sight-seeing or gone to many horse races that summer in Deauville as he struggled to re-write his book about Keane before the publisher’s deadline. The effort though certainly paid off as Roy Keane’s autobiography would go on to sell the most copies of any sports book in Ireland. I don’t think there isn’t a house in the country that doesn’t have a copy of Roy Keane’s first autobiography. If Saipan had never happened, his book would have been just another run of the mill autobiography about a footballer nearing the end of his career. But at times during that summer in Deauville,  I am sure that Dunphy must have felt like the cat that got the cream as he must have anticipated that his book would sell by the truckload, all because of Saipan.

Source : The Irish Times

Roddy Doyle and Roy Keane at the lauch of Keane’s 2nd autobiography in 2014. Saipan is rarely discussed nowadays as the whole incident is just so embarrassing for everyone involved. Most people would agree that the only person to benefit from the shambolic mess in Saipan was Eamon Dunphy. For a time in the aftermath of Keane being sent home, he was the only one in the Irish media to argue on Roy’s side and he eventually swayed Irish public opinion in Roy’s favor. The general consensus in Ireland nowadays regarding Saipan is that Roy was more sinned against than sinning  but that his behavior also put Mick McCarthy in an almost impossible situation as to how to best deal with him. Since 2014, Roy has been head coach under Martin O’Neill with the Irish team, a role he seems to relish. He has mellowed with age and rarely displays the “red mist” that was ever present in  Saipan and so often clouded his playing career. As a player, he was forever arguing with referees and journalists but now seems to get on with the press and is always good for a quote or 2. Incredibly though, despite the fact that Eamon Dunphy was the only journalist to support him during Saipan, Keane would later fall out with him partly as a result of Dunphy’s testimony during a Premier League disciplinary hearing into Roy’s tackle which broke Alf Inge Haaland’s leg. Because of this, Roy got another famous Irish author Roddy Doyle to write his second autobiography in 2014 called “The Second Half“. But while most people would agree that it is a much better book than his first autobiography, it didn’t sell as half as many copies as his first. The British journalist, Claire Hollingworth, was once described as getting the “Scoop of the Century” when she came across German tanks and troops massing on the Polish border near Katowice a few days before World War 2 started in 1939. But back in 2002 here in Deauville, I am sure Eamon Dunphy must have thought that he too had got the book publishing equivalent of the Scoop of the Century as he worked on his final draft of Roy Keane’s autobiography just a few weeks after Saipan.


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