By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Branded the bad boy of Irish soccer following his expulsion from the World Cup finals, it seemed for a while as if Roy Keane might be in for a hostile reception when he came to Dublin last weekend for Manchester United’s pre-season friendly against Shelbourne. But then, the dice were loaded.
The vast majority of spectators at Tolka Park were loyal United subjects and the very idea of giving their captain and hero some stick would be tantamount to heresy. So for just over an hour, Keane’s every move and every touch was cheered to the rafters as if the World Cup war of words with Ireland manager Mick McCarthy had never happened.
As United strolled to a comfortable 5-0 victory with Keane directing operations until he was substituted midway through the second half, the overriding question concerned the likelihood or otherwise of the country’s former international captain ever wearing the green jersey again.
Not on McCarthy’s watch, it would seem, as the qualifying games for the 2004 European Championships loom in September. The enmity between the two now appears to be irreparable following Keane’s tirade during the squad’s World Cup preparations on the island of Saipan.
If there is considerable sympathy for McCarthy’s position — few managers would have been willing to forgive such a vitriolic outburst — he must know that Keane’s return would greatly enhance Ireland’s prospects of qualifying for the European finals. There is unlikely to be any shuttle diplomacy on behalf of McCarthy or the FAI at present, so the ball, as ever, is in Keane’s court.
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Meanwhile, one of Ireland’s star performers at the World Cup, Damien Duff, could be moving to top English club Liverpool. Duff, who has two years of his contract to run at Blackburn Rovers, has been targeted by Liverpool and has yet to open talks on a new deal with Blackburn.
The Blackburn manager, Gr’me Souness, has admitted that his club were contacted by Liverpool regarding the 23-year-old’s availability. “The answer was no and I won’t let him go on the cheap,” said Souness, “but if the price was right, we would not be in a position to turn a ridiculous offer down.”