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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Ahern steps into World Cup star row
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern: Careful not to take sides
Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has launched a last-ditch attempt to persuade Roy Keane to rejoin the country's World Cup squad.

The move came as the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said there was a slim possibility of a reconciliation between the country's football manager, Mick McCarthy, and their captain, Keane.

Keane was sent home from the World Cup on Thursday for abusing and criticising the manager in front of other players.

Roy Keane
Roy Keane: One-way ticket
His anger was sparked by what he called the inadequate training facilities at the team's Pacific Ocean island base of Saipan.

Manchester United star Keane is now flying home on a private jet and told the BBC he had no regrets.

"I'm happy to be going home to see my family," he said.

"There are more important things than the World Cup."

Mr Ahern's office, which has been deluged with calls over the crisis, confirmed earlier reports that he had been involved, although it stressed that the contacts were "indirect".


This show is not over until the Fat Lady sings

FAI Secretary Des Casey

He has offered mediation assistance if either side in the affair felt it could help.

The prime minister, a big Manchester United fan, was careful not to take sides in a statement on Thursday night, saying only it was "very unfortunate that events, which are not fully clear, have conspired to deprive the Irish team of Roy Keane's great talent".

But early on Friday afternoon, Mr Ahern had not heard back from either side.

Mick McCarthy
Mick McCarthy: Opinion is divided in Ireland

Most commentators believe too much water has passed under the bridge for even Mr Ahern to turn round the situation now.

But the involvement of Mr Ahern in the dispute is a sign of Keane's importance to the side.

Without their inspirational captain, Ireland's preparations for the tournament are in disarray, with just eight days until the team's opening game against Cameroon.

Our correspondent says it is also a sign of Mr Ahern's traditionally hands-on approach to problem solving, especially in relation to union disputes in Ireland.

Apology call

The FAI is keeping the door open for Keane to return.

Secretary Des Casey said: "This show is not over until the Fat Lady sings."

And FAI Chief Executive Brendan Menton has flown out to Japan to explore any chances of reconciliation.

But Mr Casey said that would require a sincere apology on the part of Keane - and there is no sign of that yet.

Opinion on whether McCarthy was right to send Keane home appears to be divided in Ireland, with opinion split almost 50/50 in one poll for website Ireland.com.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Roy Keane
"I have a clear conscience"
BBC's Steve Watson
"Keane has no regrets"
Republic boss Mick McCarthy
"The level of abuse was unacceptable"
See also:

24 May 02 | Rep of Ireland
24 May 02 | Rep of Ireland
24 May 02 | Rep of Ireland
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