When the Irish football team touched down in Saipan just over 20 years ago there was no sign that the team’s preparations for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea were days away from imploding in a fashion that would make headlines on the front and back pages of newspapers all over the world
Almost as soon as the plane took off from Dublin things took a sour turn and as the team crossed the planet, heading from Dublin to Amsterdam to Tokyo and on finally to Saipan, there was tension on board.He played like a man possessed for that qualifying tournament. And he made all the difference. Ireland drew home and away with Portugal, beat the Dutch in Dublin and finished the group unbeaten and second in the group. They made it to the World Cup via a play-off against Iran.
Ahead of the tournament as they set off for Saipan no-one had a notion what was coming down the tracks.
Irish Times sports writers, Emmet Malone, Mary Hannigan and Ken Early as well as journalist and author Eamon Dunphy – who ghost wrote Roy Keane’s first auto-biography – tell the story of the build-up to the volcanic events on the island in the first part of a three-part In The News special to mark 20 years on from Saipan.
On one occasion a clearly disgruntled Roy Keane – the Irish captain and talismanic midfielder – had berated some of the travelling press pack travelling in the cheap seats for stories which had displeased him in Irish newspapers on the day the team set off.
Things were only going to get worse.
While the team arrived in Saipan, much of their kit did not. The training pitch was not up to scratch either. Then there was a barbecue attended by players and the media that did little to lift the Irish captain’s spirits.
Keane’s mood darkened. In fact it darkened to such an extent that he decided he had had enough and wanted to go home.
But his mind was changed and things seemed to settle down.
A matter of hours later, an interview appeared on The Irish Times website that would be read around the world.
In that interview, Keane made his views on Ireland’s preparations clear. He didn’t hold back.
Almost as soon as the words appeared on The Irish Times site, they were being printed out at an internet café in Saipan and handed to Irish manager Mick McCarthy.
A team meeting was called.
It was a meeting which would almost immediately pass into infamy.
As soon as it ended, Roy Keane was told to pack his bags. As he went back to his home in Manchester, his one-time teammates flew on to Japan and to the World Cup.
Irish Times sports writers, Emmet Malone, Mary Hannigan and Ken Early as well as journalist and author Eamon Dunphy – who ghost wrote Roy Keane's first auto-biography – tell the story of what happened on the island in the second part of a three-part In The News special to mark 20 years on from Saipan.
In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.