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Kenny Cunningham Hits The Nail On The Head Regarding Saipan 15 Years On

Mikey Traynor
By Mikey Traynor
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15 years ago Ireland was at a standstill as we waited for news on our captain, Roy Keane, and whether or not he would be playing in the 2002 World Cup.

There was such a buzz of anticipation as the boys in green left for Asia, especially having missed out in 1998, but once word reached these shores of a rift between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy, the mood changed entirely. It took a battling second half performance against Cameroon and one of the all-time great Irish performances against a German team that would eventually reach the final to put it to the back of our minds that summer, but we all knew it was far from over and sure enough, it's something that still gets talked about to this day.

Kenny Cunningham joined his World Cup teammate Kevin Kilbane on Off The Ball on Tuesday night, and the two recalled some of their memories from the moments that lead up to Roy's exit, and the former Wimbledon man hit the nail on the head with his review of the whole saga.


After admitting that he doesn't like talking about Saipan much because of the genuine sadness he still holds as to what happened, he outlined why everybody lost in the situation.

I can't help when looking back at it with a bit of sadness.

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.

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.

He's not wrong. While Holland and Kinsella were fantastic, especially given how difficult it would have been to perform with such a focus on the central midfield positions, having Roy there would have given us an extra element.

The point regarding McCarthy was also a valid one, as the drop in performances in the qualifiers immediately after that World Cup saw pressure come on him that he was not willing to keep battling against after such a difficult summer.

It split households, caused arguments, and is still being talked about 15 years later. Saipan was one of the biggest and most memorable incidents in the history of Irish sport, and Cunningham was right to suggest that the actual sadness of the whole situation appears to have been largely ignored in favour of an argument as to who was in the right.


You can listen to Kenny Cunningham on Off The Ball in full over on Newstalk.com.


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