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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 09:12 GMT
Ferguson gets his man
Roy Keane pictured at Saipan airport after his expulsion from the Irish squad
Roy Keane's decision has shocked many of his fans

The initial reaction of many Republic of Ireland soccer fans to Roy Keane's announcement on Tuesday evening that he had quit the international stage was one of betrayal.

But as the night wore on and the circumstances of Keane's bungled retirement became clear, for many the mood turned to mounting anger.

In some cases against their better judgement, many Irish people stuck up for Keane last summer amid the mud-slinging of the Saipian debacle.

They were convinced by his argument that the World Cup build-up had been a shambles and couldn't believe the way Mick McCarthy had backed Keane into a corner at the fateful team meeting.

But there was a quid-pro-quo for those folk.

Sir Alex Ferguson intervened to scupper the hopes of the Keanistas

When remedial action was taken, which involved improved organisation (hopefully the FAI's Genesis report) and a new manager was installed, then they quite reasonably expected Keane to return.

That hasn't happened and hence the sense of anger and betrayal.

If Brian Kerr is to be believed, and I for one don't doubt him, Keane gave him an "unequivocal commitment" last Thursday that he would return to the Irish jersey.

But something, or more accurately Sir Alex Ferguson, then intervened to scupper the hopes of the Keanistas who yearned to see the Corkman back in the Irish fold.

Ferguson will have been delighted at Keane's announcement.

As one commentator stated on Tuesday evening, if the Manchester United boss had his way none of his squad would play for their country.

Alex Ferguson didn't want Keane to play again for Ireland
Alex Ferguson made his point to Keane

His very public declaration 10 days ago that he wanted Keane to retire from the international scene was no surprise but its timing and purpose was hugely significant.

If Keane was going to return to the Irish squad it would be against the express wishes of the man in football whom he respects the most.

A man who had bailed Keane out of many a sticky situation, whose support for the player had always been unequivocal.

However much Keane wanted to return to Ireland duty, and Brian Kerr was certainly convinced, ultimately the player's loyalty to Ferguson was going to prove crucial - as the Manchester United manager guessed.

There are few people as blinkered as Irish Manchester United fans

Keane's statement that "unequivocal medical advice" had informed him that he should quit the international scene is unlikely to convince many Irish football fans.

In fact, it beggars belief that playing five or six internationals a year would have shortened his career to a huge extent.

So Ireland's loss is Manchester United's gain.

The next time United deign to pay their Irish brethern a visit, the legions of supporters who will want to turn up to hero-worship Ferguson and his players should perhaps have a re-think.

On second thoughts that's unlikely. There are few people as blinkered as Irish Manchester United fans caught up in the cult of the Premiership.

Republic of Ireland coach Brian Kerr takes charge of the national team for the first time

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