We're keen on Keane
By John Corry
"GUBU!" — "Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented" Ecried an Irish politician in response to the news that Ireland's star player Roy Keane was sacked from the Irish national team and being sent home after a sustained verbal barrage of abuse against the Irish national team manager Mick McCarthy. Ireland reeled in shock when it heard the ultimate Irish soccer warrior was being discarded from the supreme stage on which his skills would shine.
The results of the sacking were immediate and far-reaching. Ireland's first opponent Cameroon celebrated wildly at the news. Here, a form of national psychosis gripped the nation. The Taoiseach, widely known for his love of sport, indicated his willingness to act as peacemaker in brokering a deal, which could have catapulted the Manchester United star back into the Irish squad.
It may seem that we were overestimating the role of one player, but Keane is to Ireland what Beckham is to England. He is at once the engine of the Irish team, a national talisman and a rock on which the aspirations of opponent teams are dashed with a regularity that warms the hearts of Irish supporters the world over.
At the beginning, the issue of who was at fault split the nation evenly. Deborah Weston, no fan of soccer, watched the schism develop in her home: "Half my family hasn't spoken to the other half since last Thursday." Common sense was abandoned as people adopted blind allegiances.
Louise Boyle is 16 and sees no misdeed in her hero's outburst: "Roy has nothing to apologize for. It's Mick McCarthy who should apologize." Older heads are apparently no wiser. Paul Aughney, 46, is clear that the manager is at fault: "I just think McCarthy, by his attitude and the way he has handled everything, has ruined the World Cup for everyone." Others felt that Roy's abuse of the manager was inexcusable. Leo Fallon, 52, said, "For Roy to suggest that his conscience is clear, I reckon he must be on drugs."
The national consensus has now swung firmly in favor of Roy Keane and against the Irish manager. In a poll of 10,000 people organized by the Irish Times, 94 percent of respondents supported Keane.
Adults may have retreated into a torpor but the effect on youngsters in Ireland is more palpable. One concerned father rang RTE's (The National Television Network) news desk at 2 a.m., looking for an update with which to placate a 9-year-old who couldn't sleep because of his anxiety over the Irish team.
Another mother rang into a national radio chat-line to let the country know that she was woken by the sobbing of her 15-year-old son shortly after 7 a.m. He had just heard the latest headlines confirming the sacking. It was the first time in his life that he has got up to listen to the news.
It was rumored that as many as four private jets had been offered to the Football Association of Ireland by some of Ireland's wealthiest businessmen to whisk Roy back to Japan before Ireland's first game. The national hysteria had clearly reached every niche of society. Huge efforts were made behind the scenes to work out some resolution and there was acute anticipation that Roy would publicly apologize and pave his way back to Izumo.
The most popular television program on Irish TV gets an audience of 400,000 in a good week. On May 27, three-quarters of a million people, or 57 percent of the Irish viewing audience, watched a TV interview of Roy Keane, while an estimated 1.13 million people tuned in to a part of the program, with an even share of male and female viewers. The hearts of the country convulsed when Roy Keane announced that he would not return to the World Cup. The roller coaster had ended in the wrong terminus.
Manager McCarthy believed his squad of players were strong enough to rise above the week's problems when they began their World Cup campaign June 1, and although this was not a view shared by most Irish supporters, Ireland's performance so far seems to be proving him right.
The Irish entered the World Cup disheartened and listless, but regained their confidence in time to draw against a strong Cameroon as well as three-times World Cup winner Germany. The draw against Germany, with the literally last-minute equalizer by young striker Robbie Keane, was celebrated as if it were a victory: Irish heart triumphed over German organization.
It is an Irish twist of irony that the team's chance of success in the World Cup had been dented by one player called Keane (Roy), and in the end that chance was snatched back by another player called Keane (Robbie). The Green Army marches on again.
Shukan ST: June 14, 2002
(C) All rights reserved