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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
No sympathy vote for Keane
Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane home alone at Saipan airport
Roy Keane in pensive mood at Saipan airport
BBC Sport Online's Lyle Jackson

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Ireland's skipper at the centre of a massive World Cup story, what more could a journalist following the Republic wish for?

But there was a problem. My party of 50 media personnel was at an altitude of 10,000 metres, just embarking on the journey east.

The big story was breaking but we were not there yet.

While colleagues in Saipan were working overtime, our laptops were frustratingly packed away on an aircraft.

It was on our stopover in Amsterdam that we learned Roy Keane would soon be travelling in the opposite direction.

Not a massive shock, perhaps, given Keane's volatile past and the split within the camp which had grown since the skipper's no-show at Niall Quinn's charity testimonial.

But there was no doubt the Irish camp - players, officials, fans and journalists - were devastated by Keane's departure.

Manager Mick McCarthy has some job on his hands to lift morale as the squad prepares for the final week's build-up to the 1 June opener against Cameroon.

Open Quote
Captain Keane was not going to get much of a sympathy vote
Close Quote
Lyle Jackson

It was sad to see Keane, who did more than any other player to get the Republic to their third World Cup finals, squander the opportunity to play on the biggest stage of all.

But my mid-air straw poll among the Irish journalists conveyed a crystal clear message.

Captain Keane was not going to get much of a sympathy vote. Not this time.

Just think of the supporters who had scrimped and saved for their trip of a lifetime.

They were hoping to cheer on a successful team, not come across the aftermath of an acrimonious Irish squad bust-up.

"At least we know when we will be going home," said one media man, despondently writing off the propects of McCarthy's men without their cornerstone from Cork.

Talk turned briefly to a possible midfield partnership of Kinsella and Holland.

Wishful thinking

Then consoling thoughts for young Colin Healy of Celtic who had been denied the chance of a late call-up.

The more cheerful of the hacks attempted an optimistic line.

"Maybe this will bond the lads more closely together, a sort of unifying force."

Possibly, but that seemed more like wishful thinking.

As we boarded our flight to Tokyo, it was difficult to escape the fact that Ireland's best chance of World Cup progress was out of the tournament and in a departure lounge all of his own.


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