By Jay Mwamba
It’s official. Roy Keane’s international career is over.
Football Association of Ireland general secretary Brendon Menton told reporters in Seoul before the Irish team’s departure on June 17 that Keane would not play for the Republic again after his expulsion from Ireland’s World Cup squad before the start of the finals a month ago.
He said the team’s impressive performance in the finals showed that it could prosper without Keane, Ireland’s best player.
The Mick McCarthy-coached side reached the second round before going out 3-2 on penalties against Spain.
“This team will go on without him,” Menton said. “There is a limited life cycle to a player’s career and it had to come at some stage. It happened to be sooner than expected, but so be it.”
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Keane, who’s 30, was kicked off the team by McCarthy after a blazing row between the two a week before the championship.
An olive branch was held out to the fiery Manchester United midfielder for him to rejoin the squad if he apologized to McCarthy, but he declined.
On June 17, the FAI announced that McCarthy would be staying on as national coach for a further two years.
“The Roy Keane issue has gone away,” Menton said. “I think the team and their performances showed why it has. It would be very difficult for anyone to argue that the team would have done any better with him.”
The affair, however, won’t be officially put to rest until after the completion of an independent inquiry into the way the Irish World Cup campaign was handled.
Menton said Ireland’s performance at the finals showed the team had every reason to be confident about the future.
To advance to the second round, Ireland tied both Cameroon and Germany 1-1 and beat Saudi Arabia 3-0 in group play.
“The future for Irish football is very good,” Menton said.
Irish fans best
Ireland did not return from Japan/Korea ’02 empty handed. Irish supporters, estimated at 11,000 for the last game with Spain in Suwon, South Korea, were voted the best fans at the finals by the Japanese tournament organizers, JAWOC.
“I have been very impressed by the Irish supporters,” said Junji Ogura, JAWOC’s tournament director.
“I truly believe they have taught Japanese fans how to support their team. It has been a pity to see Ireland go out of the World Cup. They have been the best fans of the tournament,” Ogura added.
A week after Ireland’s elimination from the finals, Fulham fullback Steve Finnan shared his lingering thoughts on the World Cup on his icons.com personal page.
“I’m still gutted by the Spain result though. Of course, we can hold our heads high after coming so close but they were there for the taking and we just came up short,” he said. “Playing in the World Cup is an addictive experience and it’s difficult to accept, just as we were developing a taste for it, that it’s suddenly all over. I wouldn’t go as far as saying we should have beaten them, but there’s no doubt we could have and we’ve all got to live with that knowledge.
“I’ve never been a great advocate of penalty shootouts but I’m not complaining because both sides go into a match like that in the same situation, fully aware of how the game could be decided. There’s no point moaning about it after the event.”