Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has expressed his regret over Roy Keane’s exit from the Republic of Ireland squad before the 2002 Fifa World Cup.
Ahern, who was Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, was speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and touched on the infamous incident which saw Keane sent home by Mick McCarthy days before the World Cup kicked off.
Ireland performed reasonably well at the tournament, despite Keane’s absence, and were beaten by Spain on penalties in the round of the last 16.
— Pat Kenny Newstalk (@PatKennyNT) November 23, 2020
However, fans have always wondered what might have been if Keane had remained in the squad and Ahern feels like Ireland would have made it further into the knock-out stages.
“We certainly had the ability to get to the quarter-final. And the way it played out, we could have. It was our best opportunity,” Ahern commented.
The Drumcondra native criticised the boys in green’s preparation in the lead up to the tournament, saying they “didn’t seem like the most organised set-up on earth”.
Missed window of opportunity
Ahern has his own personal regrets about the whole incident, revealing Manchester United and Keane’s agent contacted him to ask if he was willing to act as a mediator between Keane and the Irish management.
The former Taoiseach, an avid supporter of both Ireland and Manchester United, felt as if Keane’s and McCarthy could have reconciled, but unfortunately never did.
“There was a period of about 48 hours where it seemed it might have been possible to try and arbitrate something and calm it down.
“But at the end of the day, it didn’t prove possible,” Ahern said.
While Keane was the only player to leave the squad because of the poor conditions in Saipan, teammate Damien Duff has also spoken about his dismay at the situation.
“We were 10 [days] out from the World Cup and we didn’t have footballs, the pitch didn’t have any grass on it and we had no training kit.
“Some of us saw the funny side of it but Roy flipped and decided he had had enough. He was constantly cracking, simmering and then he just exploded.
“Roy had every right to go crazy at the facilities,” Duff said.