By Jay Mwamba
Galvanized by the Roy Keane affair that threatened to scuttle their World Cup crusade before the finals, Ireland were told to hold their heads high by their inspirational manager in the face of last Sunday’s agonizing second-round penalty loss to Spain in Korea.
Mick McCarthy also reminded his players that their aim had been to cheer Irish fans and that they ought to be proud of their effort against the Spaniards despite succumbing 3-2 on penalties.
“The coach told us to smile and be proud of ourselves,” said star forward Robbie Keane, Ireland’s top scorer in the finals with three goals.
“In the dressing room he gathered us around and told us to keep our heads up and stick out our chests as we had done the country proud, him proud, and ourselves proud,” the 21-year-old added.
“We should have won this game and we really cannot look beyond it now. But we were confident if we had got over this hurdle that we could have gone to the final and even won it. That dream has come to an end.”
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Keane, whose last-gasp penalty forced the game into extra time, said he never doubted that he would score from the spot kick.
“It was the 90th minute but I was confident I was going to score,” he said. “I was not nervous. The way the game was panning out it looked as if we would get an equalizer.”
Mark Kinsella, tasked with filling the void left by Roy Keane in midfield, said that the team had put smiles on people’s faces and the performances of Damien Duff and Niall Quinn in attack were particularly
“[Spain] could not handle Damien or Quinny when he came on,” the Charlton Athletic captain said. “They just wanted to get the game into extra time and then penalties. Damien was outstanding. He was taking on three or four players and beating them.”
McCarthy said the Roy Keane affair, that came to head when he kicked his rebellious former skipper off the team before the start of the finals, had brought the squad together.
“We were left with 22 wonderful guys and the incident galvanized us all. We had a lot of pride and determination,” he said.
Meanwhile, the reaction from some former members of the Irish set-up at the Republic’s elimination was unanimous: Spain were lucky.
McCarthy’s predecessor and former mentor, Jack Charlton, was shattered by what he termed as Ireland’s undeserved eviction from the finals.
“I am very disappointed with the result because they didn’t deserve to go out of the competition,” said the English-born coaching icon, the first man to lead Ireland to the World Cup.
“We’re out now, but they didn’t deserve to be out. They deserve to be in the next round because they put everything into it and only just lost out.”
Ex-international defender Mark Lawrenson told BBC television: “They dominated for 75 percent of the game and were the only team willing to push forward and willing to try and win the game.
“Then to miss three penalties out of five . . . there is nothing you can do about that whatsoever. It was an outstanding display by Ireland, absolutely outstanding.”
David O’Leary, one of the heroes of the 5-4 penalty victory over Romania that put Ireland in the quarterfinals of Italia ’90 on their debut under Charlton, said Spain were lucky to top the Republic.
“Ireland deserved to go through. The Spanish became so negative in the second half and I thought it summed it up when they started taking off forwards,” Robbie Keane’s Leeds United boss added.