“We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
While Roy Keane and Jack Charlton didn’t always see eye-to-eye, the former Ireland manager has always been incredibly complimentary of Keane’s talents, ever since the very first moment that he first saw the Corkman at a young age.
Before he won his first cap for Ireland in ’91, Keane was already turning heads at Nottingham Forest. And while the likes of Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson had more of a seismic impact on his career, it’s easy to forget the role that Charlton had in getting the midfielder to Old Trafford.
However, given the nature of both men and their footballing philosophies, clashes were always inevitable.
Keane on playing for Ireland.
In his first book, Keane said that he had ‘mixed feelings’ about playing for Ireland because while he loved the 90 minutes of game time, he felt that “of all the setups I’d been part of, going back to Rockmount AFC, through Cobh Ramblers and Forest, the Irish international camp was by far the worst organised.”
In his book, even in the early ’90s, Keane took umbrage with the training facilities, travel arrangements, the training kit, medical facilities, and the training itself.
A sign of things to come, eh?
“Worse than the shambolic preparation was the perverse sense of pride that everyone appeared to feel in the fact that the Irish did things ‘differently.’ Unlike the international teams that we were competing against, we could be ill-prepared and unprofessional and boast about it!” wrote Keane.
Years later, this would all come to a head in Saipan, however, similar issues were raised during Ireland’s preparations for USA ’94 too.
At the time, Maurice Setters was Charlton’s right-hand man and Keane was distinctly unimpressed by a training session that he held in Orlando, days before Ireland’s opening match at USA ’94 against Italy.
“To prepare us for the heat and humidity, our training camp was in Florida at Orlando. The facilities laid on by the Americans were perfect. But I thought the training put on by Maurice Setters was shit. I was used to well planned, always interesting and relevant routines by Brian Kidd. By comparison, Setters hadn’t a clue.
“After two or three days of duff training, morale was beginning to dip. One day Jack disappeared, leaving Setters in sole charge. The sun was blazing down and. Even walking to the training ground you began to sweat heavily. He ran us into the ground. Then he set up an eleven-a-side game on the full pitch. This became a farce.
“Knackered, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Everyone was pissed off. Andy Townsend, the captain, told Setters we’d had enough. ‘I’ll tell you when you’ve had enough was Setters’ response. We just downed tools. Next thing, Andy walked off the pitch, followed by the rest of us. Mutiny.”
Keane then becomes perplexed how the story gets twisted into a narrative of Roy Keane vs the Ireland management set-up, as Charlton calls a team meeting to resolve the issue.
“I’d simply followed the herd, although I fully supported the walkout.”
“The press was there, although at first, I don’t think they copped what was going on. Setters started shouting at nobody in particular. Andy repeated we’ve had enough. The news finally reached the media. ‘Bust-Up In Irish Training Camp’ was a hot story. ‘Keane In Bust-Up In Irish Training Camp’ was an untrue story. I’d simply followed the herd, although I fully supported the walkout.
“I was mystified as to how my name came to feature in the story. When we finally returned, Jack called a team meeting to find out what had happened. Then he proposed a solution. Setters and I would hold a press conference to clear the air. ‘Everything was fine’ would be the message,” said Keane.
The Manchester United midfielder felt that by toeing the ‘party line,’ he was victimised in how the story was portrayed.
Keane adds: “Instead of saying that I hadn’t had a bust-up with Setters – that in fact, it was skipper ANdy Townsend acting on behalf of all the players who’d had the row – I went along with the party line. Good old Roy! Charlton was clever with the media. On this occasion, his plan worked perfectly. I became the story. Nobody asked why he had been absent from training.”
While Paul McGrath’s heroic performance against the Italians in Giants Stadium is rightfully lauded, it’s disappointing that the contribution of Keane in that game – alongside Andy Townsend and John Sheridan – is often overlooked because too many people, that was the finest performance of any Irish midfield.
From the moment that he announced himself on the international stage with a commanding performance in Seville against Spain, Charlton knew that Keane was a special talent. In fact, in his book, Jack Charlton’s American World Cup Diary, the Irish manager singled out the Corkman for praise after that game.
“Not only were we the better team, but I think everybody in that stadium knew that we also had the best player – Roy Keane. Young Roy was fantastic, running all night and doing things which others found next to impossible.
“Despite all the talk about the player in the British and Irish press for the last couple of years, the Italians, it seemed, were unprepared for him.”
Ultimately, Roy Keane and Jack Charlton would both help get Ireland to the World Cup in ’94 and while it was one hell of an adventure – featuring some wonderful performances – it wasn’t the only time that they clashed in America.