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Revisiting The Good, Bad & Hilarious Media Reaction To Mick McCarthy's 2002 Resignation

By Arthur James O'Dea
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With discussions regarding who should replace Martin O'Neill as the Republic of Ireland manager only getting underway, the Football Association of Ireland appear to have nipped any potential debate in the bud; Mick McCarthy is ready for a return.

Departing the job almost exactly 16-years ago, the former Irish captain has rarely been out of work ever since. As a 3-year spell with Sunderland preceded two 6-year spells with Wolves and Ipswich Town, McCarthy has proven himself to be a reliable man in a crisis.

Although few would argue that Ireland's international team hasn't slipped into a grim crisis of its own, it may prove harder to determine whether or not this has been inspired primarily by a) Martin O'Neill, or b) a lack of available talent.

McCarthy, generally associated with enabling a slow and steady improvement (glacially so if you asked Ipswich Town fans), the new Republic of Ireland manager will have two years to achieve an uncompromising aim - qualify for the 2020 European Championships.

A task that will reignite widespread interest in the national team (initially, anyway), it is worth revisiting the manner of his earlier departure. Coming so soon after Ireland's admirable performance in the 2002 World Cup, the inescapable impact of Saipan and a poor start to qualifying for the 2004 European Championships had precipitated a premature exit.

Speaking at the time, Mick McCarthy revealed the extent to which the lingering issues surrounding his disagreement with Roy Keane had informed his decision to leave.

"I said to you after the last game, that if my presence, because of circumstances, is effecting performances ... not so much my presence as some of the stuff that was going on surrounding my presence effected team performances, then, I said I would consider my position," McCarthy stated on the eve of his resignation.


"I don't feel any sense of betrayal at all, it's my decision. I'll tell you what I feel, I feel immense pride and pleasure at having been allowed to do the job.

"Perhaps at a time when some people were trying to get me out of it, the FAI, at that time, were strong enough to back me, and I think we all reaped that reward in Japan and Korea in the summer."

In the immediate aftermath of McCarthy's departure, the reaction, as had been the case in relation to Saipan, was divided.


Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was "sad to see him go," whereas former Irish international John Giles believed McCarthy should have "left in the summer," immediately after the World Cup.

[Watch Video]

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now justifiably claim that the debates regarding Saipan may never actually end. At the time, however, there was a palpable sense that Mick McCarthy had been unfairly ostracised.


Speaking in the wake of McCarthy's resignation, his predecessor Jack Charlton knew which of his two former players he was holding responsible.

As quoted in the Irish Independent, Charlton admitted that "the FAI and probably a lot of people feel that Keane has been the winner and I think that's unfortunate.

"Mick McCarthy has built a very competitive team and they became one of the most feared in Europe and, indeed, the World.


"When you consider the size of Ireland and the small pool of players, that was an outstanding achievement."

As for Eamonn Dunphy, his 'friendship' with Keane led him to reach an alternative conclusion. Discussing the issue of McCarthy's resignation with Sky Sports News, Dunphy believed the former Irish manager only had himself to blame.

"The buck always stops with the manager in football unfortunately," Dunphy explained.


"It was harrowing for all people involved. Niall Quinn, Mick McCarthy, Roy Keane. It has been a very, very unhappy experience and it should never have got to this stage.

"Mick McCarthy was the person in charge of that situation and he should have managed it better. He hasn't been hounded out of the job. He became untenable because of the decisions that effectively he made himself."

Elsewhere, Cathal Dervlin, the ghost-writer of McCarthy's autobiography, stuck by his man.


"The most damaging statement came when Roy Keane said he would play for Ireland as long as Mick McCarthy wasn't manager," Dervlin told BBC Five Live

"What that did was establish a foundation and give people the bricks to throw when results went against Mick. The country has been split down the middle since the Roy Keane affair."


Writing for the Irish Times, Emmet Malone described the exit as "short, if not sweet." In the same publication, former Irish international Mark Lawrenson reflected that "some of his so-called "enemies"f feel almost sorry for him now - and they should do."

Keith Duggan was similarly angered at how McCarthy had been treated.

The final pity was that Mick McCarthy waited long enough to hear the voices of the people. Until the low and plaintive chorus of boos rose over Lansdowne Road in the minutes after the loss against Switzerland last month, he could not have guessed at how terrible and unforgettable it would sound.

Whatever his faults, he deserved a better keepsake for his farewell night at Lansdowne Road than that. But at least he was sure. McCarthy has always placed a heavy faith in the voice of the public and with the rejection, he was convinced. It was over.

After two decades of Lansdowne stories as a player and manager, it was, as Tony Soprano would say, a fuck of a way for it all to end. But as the FAI treasurer, John Delaney, pointed out on Wednesday night, that's football.

Brendan Crossan of the Irish News was quick to praise the departing Irish manager, but wasn't so sure time would look favourably on his reign.

"A lesser man would have collapsed under the strain of the Roy Keane fall-out," Crossan believed.

"Put simply, McCarthy should've then walked away with the applause still ringing in his ears. Five months later, the applause, the moderate levels of adulation are gone. And now so is Mick.

"He was devoutly proud to manage the Irish team, but time will probably never smile on McCarthy's six-year reign. A slight, lamentable grin is all he will be afforded in years to come."

Paul Howard shared a similar concern in his column for the Sunday Tribune. 

"Perspective was always a problem with Mick McCarthy," Howard suggested.

"He often lacked it and so too did those who sat in judgement on him - both favourably and otherwise. The truth about him, as with the Roy Keane row that set in train the end, lies somewhere between the two entrenched positions.

"The fairest assessment of him as a manager is that he was never as good as he looked during the World Cup finals, and never as bad as he appeared since."

Writing in the Irish Independent's 'The English View', Paul Hayward provided some context of how the incident was being relayed in England.

Describing the "lynching of Mick McCarthy," Hayward drew on the convenient comparison of Mick's departure and the heady days of U.S., commie-hunting McCarthyism.

"The McCarthy-ite witch-hunts of the 1950s were directed at supposed Communist sympathisers in American society," Hayward explained.

"This time a McCarthy is the victim. Keane's obvious triumph in seeing off a manager who had the temerity to ask him to subsume his raging egocentricity for the good of the team is only part of the story.

"The Republic's problem, it seems to me, is not too little success but too much. Few countries (England, maybe, being one) are carting round such delusions of grandeur."

Deciding that this great lie had begun as Jack Charlton's Ireland picked up speed, Hayward condemned Ireland for falling into an easy trap: "Mark this down as the week when the Republic chose to behave like everyone else."

Given the prominent number of Premier League players in the Republic of Ireland squad, not to mention the intrigue surrounding the absent Keane, a number of the English media outlets covered the story with great fervour.

Almost unanimously, McCarthy was looked upon favourably; whereas Keane was scorned. In The Telegraph, Christopher Davies was unflinching in his criticism of the latter.

"In the final reckoning, the man who guided Ireland to the brink of the quarter-finals at the World Cup this summer lost out," Davies argued. In his place, the power had been afforded "to a player who turned his back on his country before the tournament and returned home having openly criticised his manager, team-mates and the Football Association of Ireland."

Meanwhile, Steve Tongue of Independent criticised Ireland's treatment of a manager who had "banished Roy Keane from the World Cup." Although less critical of the Manchester United star than others, Tongue nevertheless believed that it was McCarthy who was leaving with "his pride intact."

The Guardian's Henry McDonald was a touch more vociferous in his condemnation of those who had yearned for McCarthy's departure.

"McCarthy's departure, after only two defeats in the autumn, underlines how fickle football fans can be," McDonald claimed.

"But the Irish take fickleness to a new extreme. Remember those wonderful morning matches just a few months ago.

"Limbo dancing under the mechanical iron door to get into the local pub for the first game against Cameroon. Eating bacon butties and supping beer at 7am. Standing huddled up against hundreds of other early birds straining at the neck to watch the big screen in the bar.

"Surging along in a throng of half-pissed joyous supporters while celebrating the Irish goals."

Set now for a return to the role, it surely can't be as entertaining as before, can it?

See Also: Paddy McCourt: The Last Great Irish Dribbler

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