By Neil Silver

When Roy Keane walked out of the Republic of Ireland camp at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, it sent shock waves around the footballing world. The Republic and Manchester United captain was one of the most feared midfielders in the game and Ireland’s great hope in the Far East. There in the thick of it was UCFB’s Neil Silver, who was the Press Association’s Ireland correspondent for the tournament. Here, Neil recounts the infamous incident and reflects on one of the highlights of his journalism career.

Remembering Roy Keane and the 2002 World Cup

The most memorable moment of the 2002 World Cup finals happened before a ball had been kicked, when Republic of Ireland captain and talisman Roy Keane was sent home from the squad’s training base on the tiny island of Saipan.

As the Press Association’s Ireland correspondent, I was there as the lone Englishman – along with just a handful of Irish journalists – and played a key role in the breaking news and the ongoing saga which made headlines on the front and back pages around the world.

My first reaction was that, no matter what the argument between Keane and Ireland boss Mick McCarthy was about, it was suicide to lose arguably the greatest player to have worn the green shirt of the Republic.

My view was enforced at the very next press conference, when new skipper Kenny Cunningham was asked what impact this would have on the team.

Cunningham summed it up perfectly in a quote which will remain with me forever, when he said: “When you are standing in that tunnel waiting to walk out on to the pitch, if you look across to your opposing team then every one of them is looking at the front of our line, watching Roy puffing out his chest – and you can see the fear in their eyes.”

To some extent, I was proved wrong by the team because they pulled together and managed to get out of a difficult group without Roy, before losing on penalties to Spain in the knockout stages – but I couldn’t help thinking what might have been.

Covering a World Cup, attached to a specific team, was like no other experience in my sports journalism career.

For that month, you lose touch with the outside world, and you lose track of time, cocooned in a press pack which follows that nation, attending daily press conferences, training sessions and of course the big matches when they come around.

Thanks to the time difference in Asia, the Roy Keane story meant that we worked around the clock to meet deadlines back in the UK and Republic of Ireland, so it was mentally exhausting – but I wouldn’t swap a minute of it.

I formed strong bonds with those Irish journalists who were the advance guard in Saipan, as we were thrown into a situation that none of us had experienced before. As I helped them overcome technical issues to file their stories to their sports desks back in Ireland, we became friends and rivals, riding a huge wave of emotion as we tried to stay ahead of the story. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.

I even became something of a celebrity in Ireland, being interviewed live on various national radio stations to talk about the Keane affair and Ireland’s progress through the tournament. I also represented the Irish press football team, playing alongside the father of Ireland defender Gary Kelly, who made some guest appearances for the team!

I have covered major sporting events around the world, including the Olympic Games, but nothing will ever come close to the Japan and Korea World Cup, thanks to a certain Mr Keane.