Things were tense between Roy Keane and Charlton before Ireland’s World Cup opener.
While Paul McGrath’s performance against Italy is rightfully regarded as one of the all-time great individual feats in an Irish jersey, the fog of nostalgia can hide another truth, Roy Keane was magnificent that day too.
As part of Ireland’s midfield alongside John Sheridan, Andy Townsend, and Ray Houghton, Keane was superb as Ireland’s midfield dictated the tempo, bustled with energy, and restricted Italy to very few chances.
On that day, Keane played as the deepest-lying central midfielder and as usual, he was effective by putting in some typically robust challenges and using the ball extremely well.
Through a combination of energy, positional intelligence and discipline, Keane protected Ireland’s centre-back pairing of McGrath and Babb. Of course, when facing a side of Italy’s quality, they’d always have territory and chances but McGrath’s seismic performance kept them at bay.
However, Keane was also effective going forward in that game – he memorably crossed to Sheridan, whose first-time shot smacked the Italian crossbar – but prior to the match, Keane wasn’t Charlton’s favourite person after they had a bit of a bust-up on the training ground.
In the book Jack Charlton’s American World Cup Diary, the legendary Irish manager recounts what happened.
“Out on the training park, I have a bit of a go today at Roy Keane. I look across at one stage and notice that he is just standing there doing nothing. When I ask him if he has a problem, he tells me that he has a bit of a groin strain. More than that, he informs he that he’s had it for a few days – and I see red.
“He tells me that he intends to run it off, and I inform him that he’ll run off nothing of the kind. He’ll stop there and then, and if he doesn’t he’s in big trouble. Now Roy is not the easiest person to deal with. He’s basically a shy lad who will never volunteer conversation, and unless you approach him, you’ll learn nothing. But on this occasion at least I think he takes the point,” said Charlton.
Thankfully, Keane played against the Italians at Giants Stadium and was terrific, but in the days after the famous 1-0 win, the Manchester United midfielder was the focus of Charlton’s ire again.
“I have another go at Roy Keane this morning. He was one of the players in the ‘wars’ in the Italian match, he finished it with a dead leg. And when you think of the way he played in New Jersey and the enormous work rate he produced in the conditions, that wasn’t altogether surprising.
“He’s had his hair shaved tight in what, I can only surmise, is his latest concession to fashion. Now here he is, out in the scorching sun with no headgear on, charging about when he’s supposed to be resting his leg. So I call him and give him a piece of my mind. And guess what? Within another five minutes, I spot him out on an adjoining pitch, whacking balls in at Packie Bonner. Now whether he forgets what I say to him or deliberately lets it in one ear and out the other, I don’t know, but he gets my dander up at times,” said Charlton.
As mentioned previously, Keane also had a falling out with Ireland’s assistant coach Maurice Setters in Orlando and speaking in another interview with Mark Pougatch on ITV, the former Manchester United midfielder gave an insight into what USA ’94 was like under Charlton’s management.
“When I say we were in the zone, when we played under Jack Charlton there was free time. We weren’t just locked in our hotel up in some mountain. We were hitting the Irish bars on our nights off and we were enjoying the occasion but, as I said, in the back of your mind, you’re saying, ‘We’re professional footballers. We want to go over there and have some sort of impact’. Even though, as I said, we had a tough group.”
The Manchester United midfielder was candid when chatting about Charlton’s more relaxed attitude to looking after the players but Keane was adamant that when it was time to work, the Ireland team worked bloody hard.
“Jack always had a relaxed attitude, that when you were not training, you lads, you do what you want. A lot of lads were experienced players who had the balance right – went to have a few pints and went to relax. In America, at the time, there were great [down-time] options for us, especially in Orlando.
“We’d go to water-parks. Strangely enough, if you saw a player doing that now you’d say, ‘That’s a bit mad’, but it was a great way to switch off. When you’re going down a slide in Orlando, you’re not thinking about a Mexican midfielder who is supposed to be playing against you.
“It was a great way to relax and chill out. And then Jack would say, back to the hotel – now I’m talking about three or four nights before a game – he’d say ‘If you want to have a few pints, just take it easy’. You know, 10 or 12 pints and then go for it!”
At this point, Keane was joking but Pougatch then asked the Corkman if he could confirm an urban myth from USA 94.
“But you did have a Guinness tap on your [hotel] floor?,” asked Pougatch.
Keane replied by saying: “Yeah, on our floor, which was pretty handy. But when I saw our lads go there for breakfast, it did concern me! Listen, I was the first in the bar; don’t get me wrong. But that was the time, 1994. If you saw a team doing that now…. but we also had good players. Really good, experienced players that knew and always had the balance right. Honestly. When we had to work, we worked. Don’t be kidded on by that.”