Kevin Kilbane and Kenny Cunningham's Saipan memories

Former Ireland duo share memories 15 years to the day

BY Raf Diallo 21:30 Tuesday 23 May 2017, 21:30 23 May 2017

Manager Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane pass each other during training ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

It's one of those historical moments that is guaranteed it's place on a Reeling In The Years type show, so divisive it proved at the time.

And today, Tuesday May 23rd 2017 is exactly 15 years to the day that "Saipan" happened as then Ireland captain Roy Keane's 2002 World Cup ended after a row with Mick McCarthy.

Kevin Kilbane and Kenny Cunningham were both there in that squad and they shared their memories on Off The Ball.

"I can't help when looking back at it with a bit of sadness," said Cunningham of the tumultuous events 15 years ago today.

"I thought everybody lost. Roy lost. He missed out on a World Cup and he should have been there because he was a big reason why we were there. He was captain and probably our most influential player and I think we lost by not having Roy there and that's not being disrespectful to the players who stepped in. Mark Kinsella and Matt Holland came in and were exceptional during the course of the tournament." 

As Cunningham pointed out, Ireland almost got to the quarter finals of that World Cup and he added that Keane could have "been the difference" if he had been available. 

Kenny Cunningham in 2002 on the eve of the World Cup ©INPHO/Andrew Paton

He continued: "And I think Mick ultimately paid the price as well. I think it cost him his job because that cloud hung over the squad and hung over Mick for the months after that." 

Kevin also echoed the point that what transpired 15 years ago was "sad" for all involved.

Cunningham added that the whole squad "desperately wanted to have Roy there" at the tournament, and acknowledged that the training pitch surface - the one that Keane had been disappointed by - wasn't in the best condition.

But the moment of no going back was the team meeting which saw Keane and McCarthy row and for the rest of the squad that witnessed, it was the moment they knew that a parting of the ways was inevitable.

Cunningham said, "Once the meeting was over, I think that was it. There was no coming back".

He added: "Just because of some of the content of the conversation between Mick and Roy and how it progressed during the course of the meeting, for me it was obvious to everybody when Roy walked out the door, that was it, that he wasn't coming back."  

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