By Stephen McKinley
On the TV screen in Toucan Tommy’s bar in Woodside, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was advancing toward a battery of microphones, flanked by David Trimble and Mark Durkan. They all looked serious and concerned. Was it another crisis in the peace process?
Crisis yes, but not that one — the crisis exercising everyone from Ahern to the customers in Tommy’s Bar was what would be the outcome of the Roy Keane dismissal by Ireland manager Mick McCarthy.
Why Trimble and Durkan were present at all was instantly lost in the hail of recriminations that followed in the conversations of customers and staff alike. Who did what to whom, and why, and should they apologize?
It seemed neither Keane nor McCarthy would be welcome in Woodside, although it also sounded as if a spell with the customers in various bars might knock some sense into the cantankerous pair.
That was where any form of consensus ended, however. Judgment came swift from the mouth of one man, drinking a pint as Keane gave his exclusive RTE interview, broadcast by Sky Sports.
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“A tinker with an English accent,” he said derisively of Keane, who appeared on the screen, talking earnestly to the interviewer.
However, what Keane had to say was convincing enough for Kieran Whoriskey, a construction worker from County Donegal.
“Did you see photographs of the pitch?” he said. “Here you are, supposed to be getting ready for the World Cup, and the pitch you’re training on looks like a plowed field.” He was referring to one of Keane’s main complaints, that the training conditions offered to the Irish team were below standard.
“I don’t even think we’ll get through the first round now,” Whoriskey said. He added that most of his friends had different opinions, but were largely in favor of Keane’s position.
“By the sound of things, from that interview,” he said, “Keane’s prepared to go halfway. The ball is in McCarthy’s hands now.”
Next to Whoriskey, someone wondered out loud if there were deeper reasons for the crisis.
“They should have been able to sort this out without getting the media involved. Why did it turn into this big crisis? There has to be something deeper than just a scrap between Roy Keane and McCarthy,” he said.
“He’s the best player to come out of Ireland,” said a colleague, farther down the bar. “If there’s bad blood, sort it out.”
“If McCarthy got enough pressure from Bertie and the FAI, then maybe, maybe Keane could go back,” said Whoriskey, but his voice trailed off. He paused to watch some more of the television interview. “Morale’s all dampered now. I can’t see it happening.”
Animatedly debating the matter in the corner was Johnny Logan from Meath and Harry McLoughlin from Sligo.
“The FAI’s the guilty party here,” McLoughlin said. “I am fully for Roy Keane. First there was the state of the grounds and then there’s just this huge loss of respect for McCarthy.”
“McCarthy started all this in 1994,” his friend Logan said. Logan was not impressed with Keane’s interview on RTE. “He could have said sorry to the Irish fans and the Irish team,” he said.
But he wasn’t ready to let Keane off so easily.
“If Keane’s the star we all think he is, he should swallow his pride and apologize. You have 99 percent of the kids in Ireland wearing the No. 6 shirt. That’s a lot of people to have their hopes built on you,” he said.
Back and forth went the debate, as the punters considered every angle of the case like detectives sniffing for clues at a crime scene.
“There is a lot more to this than we’ll ever know,” said McLoughlin, echoing the comments of others, who reckoned that neither McCarthy nor Keane were so pigheaded to fall out over something as minor as they did. There must therefore be something more at work than what was known from the facts, was the thinking.
“Then again, it’s typical of an Irishman,” McLoughlin said. “Won’t say sorry, won’t swallow pride.”
“Yes,” said Logan. “But how easy is it for an Irish guy to apologize to an Englishman?”
“Well, it’s a huge loss, whatever it is,” said a man who gave his name as Sean. “But we’ll get over it. He’s like the rest of us, hotheaded.”
Neither McLoughlin nor Logan thought that Ahern’s offer of intervention as a mediator would be helpful.
“I don’t think it’s any of his business,” Logan said. “The election was on and nobody knew anything about it. But everyone knows about Roy Keane and the World Cup.”
On the TV screen, up flashed the concerned face of Ahern again.
“Put Bertie in midfield!” yelled one customer. “There’s the answer.”
In other bars in the area, and farther west in Sunnyside, Keane and McCarthy were mentioned in many fervent conversations. When asked about Keane, one group of young women in Maggie M”s rolled their eyes and laughed, indicating that they’d had enough of Roy Keane already, and the debate was a long way from being over.
Next to them, one of a group of young men laughed at the women.
“They’d probably ask you which team Roy Keane plays for,” he said derisively.
In Flynn’s Bar on Queens Boulevard, two Irish-American men were vainly holding their own conversation about the collapsed bridge in Oklahoma, while Keane mania raged around them.
Stoicism seemed to be the most common response. In Toucan Tommy’s, Johnny Logan had summed things up: “The team is still going to do well. If we lose 10-nil, we’ll still walk with our heads held high, and if we win 10-nil, we’ll walk with our heads held high.”