SAIPAN TO PARIS

Ex­clu­sive ex­tracts from Shay Given’s new book

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

MICK doesn’t get an­other word out. Roy is up for this, he’s out of his seat and he’s into Mick. A minute ago I was laugh­ing, singing along to the band. I’m now slunk in my chair, in com­plete and ut­ter shock. Roy is go­ing per­sonal, Roy is go­ing heavy and it feels like Roy is go­ing too far.

“Why the fuck are you, ask­ing me a ques­tion? Who the fuck are you? You were a shit player and you’re a worse man­ager. You’re a wanker as a man, you’re a wanker as a man­ager and you shouldn’t be man­ag­ing my coun­try. Fuck you, and you can fuck­ing stick your World Cup.”

Mick edges in a word here and there, ask­ing why Roy had not played in the sec­ond play-off leg with Iran, and that makes it worse. He im­plies that Roy was fit to play and he has let his coun­try down, which would make any­one an­gry, let alone some­one like Roy.

For about eight or nine min­utes Roy keeps it up, slat­ing ev­ery last thing he doesn’t like about Mick, the Ire­land setup, our prepa­ra­tions for the tour­na­ment, the de­lay in the de­liv­ery of our train­ing gear, the state of the prac­tice pitch, our pro­fes­sion­al­ism as a squad, every­thing he can think of. By the end he’s not even rag­ing any more, it’s just a to­tal de­struc­tion of Mick, per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

Roy is hemmed in be­cause of the way the seats have been ar­ranged around these ta­bles for din­ner. The only thing be­tween him and Mick is Kev Kil­bane, who just so hap­pens to have sat in the worst place in the en­tire room at that mo­ment. He’s like a ten­nis um­pire, look­ing left and right, left and right, won­der­ing where the next vol­ley is com­ing from. The boss stands there, ab­sorb­ing Roy’s abuse. He’s clearly taken the ap­proach that it’s best to let Roy get it all out, in front of ev­ery­body. Fi­nally, af­ter 10 min­utes — or sev­eral life­times, depend­ing on how you feel about it — Roy sits down. He’s said his piece.

TO me, Roy had seemed a bit ‘off’, a bit dis­tracted, for the en­tirety of the build-up to the World Cup, even from the mo­ment we left Ire­land. He com­plained about how chaotic our prepa­ra­tions were and, to be fair, he had a point. If you be­lieve in omens there were plenty to choose from. When we got to Dublin air­port for our flight, it was bed­lam, full of fans, the Taoiseach, Ber­tie Ah­ern, was there for some rea­son — was it elec­tion time? — and there were peo­ple dressed as lep­rechauns with Guin­ness hats on, you name it.

The at­mos­phere wasn’t helped by the fact re­porters were also min­gling with the squad, in­clud­ing some who had crit­i­cised Roy for miss­ing Niall Quinn’s re­cent tes­ti­mo­nial. Nei­ther Roy nor Quinny had any is­sue with that be­cause Roy needed treat­ment for an in­jury at the time so it had all been pa­per talk but, nev­er­the­less, it was an un­wel­come hic­cup in the build-up to the tour­na­ment.

Af­ter leav­ing Dublin, we had to stop at Am­s­ter­dam en route to Tokyo which, again, wasn’t ideal. Roy was look­ing tense when we even­tu­ally landed in Tokyo and awaited an­other plane jour­ney to Saipan. Yet it would be un­fair to say he was be­ing com­pletely un­ap­proach­able or ar­gu­men­ta­tive with Mick or any­one in the squad at this point. It was a 23-hour trip from Dublin to Tokyo and that’s enough to put any­one in a quiet mood. Roy was just keep­ing him­self to him­self.

There’s a ra­dio sta­tion in Ire­land called To­day FM that does a show called Gift Grub which is a mickey-take of fa­mous Ir­ish peo­ple. One of their record­ings was a spoof im­per­son­ation of Roy and Alex Fer­gu­son hav­ing an ar­gu­ment about wages and not be­ing paid on time. Roy was go­ing mad at Fergie down the phone on this ra­dio clip and I had a copy of it, so to lift the mood at Tokyo air­port, I played it in the lounge as we waited for the re­main­ing con­nec­tion. Al­though the Roy on the ra­dio was fum­ing, the real Roy was fine, he was laugh­ing about it with the rest of us.

Some peo­ple are ner­vous around Roy be­cause he can be un­ap­proach­able at times but I just treated him like any­one else and en­joyed the craic.

The Gift Grub spoof was only a laugh, and Roy was more than happy to go along with it. He was a bit dis­tant from the lads but that was just Roy some­times. I never gave it any real thought.

“WELL,” Mick says, still as calm as any­thing. “I don’t know what hap­pens now. Be­cause ei­ther you go or I go. And I’m go­ing nowhere.” Roy gets up again, takes one look at us all and goes,“Good luck lads, all the best”, and walks out. We sit around, star­ing at the table­cloth, star­ing at the ceil­ing, star­ing at our flip-flops. No­body wants to say a word, no­body can say a word. I’ve never felt col­lec­tive shock like it. Twenty-five blokes, mute, stunned, tongues cut out, heads scram­bled, minds blown.

ROY KEANE is one of the great­est play­ers in the world, he’s the finest player in our squad, a true Ir­ish great. And he’s just walked out on a World Cup cam­paign.

The room re­mains tense and silent, the mood is sur­real. Some­body needs to do some­thing or say some­thing to make us all come back to planet Earth from what­ever trip we’ve all just been on. Dean Kiely sticks his hand up. He’s a good lad Dean, a really fine goal­keeper and trainer and we’ve al­ways got on. “Boss,” he says. “If you need a mid­fielder, I can play there — I’ll do you a job.”

Per­fect. The room falls about laugh­ing, the ten­sion and the em­bar­rass­ment dis­ap­pear in a split-sec­ond. Gary Kelly joins in as well. “GET THAT FUCK­ING BAND BACK IN HERE,” he shouts one last time, be­fore get­ting se­ri­ous. “We’re with you Mick,” he says. “We have to stick to­gether. Now are we be­hind Mick or not?” The room breaks out into a round of ap­plause for Mick, who still looks pretty shocked by every­thing that has just hap­pened. In the space of about 15 min­utes, Ire­land have just be­come the big­gest sport­ing story on the planet. For all the wrong rea­sons.

I NEVER want to be in a room with an at­mos­phere like that, ever again. It had al­ways been my dream to play at a World Cup and now I was there, now I was ac­tu­ally there and it was all fall­ing apart around me. It was with­out doubt the big­gest bustup I wit­nessed in my pro­fes­sional life. “Did that really hap­pen?” Quinny asked me as we walked out of the ball­room.

I just couldn’t get my head around it all. On the one hand, I didn’t think there was a way back for Roy af­ter what he’d said but also, this was Roy Keane. He was a gi­ant of a player, he was the cap­tain and I didn’t want to lose his in­flu­ence on the pitch. Ire­land were a bet­ter side with Roy Keane in the team, no ques­tion, so

de­spite the chaos there was part of me that knew we’d miss him. How­ever, the part of me that mourned Roy go­ing was smaller than the other part of me, which was scream­ing that it’s a team game and the team comes first.

I un­der­stand that as the cap­tain Roy was prob­a­bly try­ing to make a point and re­main pro­fes­sional but the big­ger pic­ture for me was the fact Roy was our best player, our leader on the pitch and some­one we all looked up to. If ev­ery other player had ac­cepted the sit­u­a­tion, could he not have just got on with it like the rest of us? Yes, the balls and bibs should have been there, yes the pitch should have been bet­ter. I get all that and I agree with it. But life doesn’t al­ways go to plan, does it?

My is­sue wasn’t that Roy was rag­ing at the sham­bolic set-up. What I couldn’t be­lieve was that Roy had cho­sen to go now — a week be­fore our open­ing game against Cameroon in the big­gest sport­ing tour­na­ment on earth. If the pitches had been bobbly at Malahide and we’d had no kit to train with be­fore a mid-sum­mer friendly against who­ever, then I’d be next to Roy, telling both Micks, McCarthy and Byrne, and all the sup­port staff, that it was a dis­grace and we de­served bet­ter.

It’s a tim­ing thing for me. Noth­ing mat­ters more than play­ing in a World Cup for Ire­land — I would’ve jumped in a ca­noe on the Lif­fey and pad­dled there my­self if that’s what it took to get to South Korea and Ja­pan — so surely to God we can put any­thing and every­thing to one side for the good of the job that’s in front of us? Cross­ing that white line and rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land should’ve out­weighed ev­ery other is­sue.

He was a bit dis­tant from the lads but that was just Roy

I couldn’t be­lieve Roy chose to go the a week be­fore our open­ing game

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