Irish Republican News · November 24, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Keane to return to Irish soccer team

The former captain of the Irish soccer team, Roy Keane, is set to return to international football almost two years after he dramatically quit the squad at the 2002 World Cup in Japan.

Keane's bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) days before the start of the tournament stunned an Irish public desperate for success on sport's greatest stage.

The shock departure of the Manchester United star, followed by the vain attempts to find a reconciliation before Ireland were ultimately knocked out of the tournament, dominated Irish news coverage for weeks.

Ireland remains divided over his actions at Saipan island. Some have said Keane was right when he blasted the FAI, McCarthy and some of the other players for what he claimed was an unprofessional attitude. Others have accused Keane of putting his personal fitness concerns -- and his future earning potential -- ahead of the nation's sporting aspirations.

Keane has undoubtedly been Ireland's best player in recent decades and his absence left a gaping hole in Ireland's midfield.

It emerged today that he has met with new Ireland manager Brian Kerr and stated his desire to return to the international set-up.

In a prepared statement, Kerr said: ``I am glad that one of the greatest players ever to play for Ireland has chosen this path. It cannot have been an easy decision for him but his desire to represent his country is immense.

``I look forward to working with Roy Keane. He brings quality and experience to a potentially excellent squad of players whose sole focus is the World Cup qualifying matches next autumn.''

Ireland failed to qualify for this year's European Championship and faces a tough qulifying group to return to the Wrokld Cup arena in 2006.

Keane's decision to return had been rumoured despite his claims that the advice from medical experts was to ration the matches in which he participates.

Speaking in Dublin two months ago, Keane dropped his biggest hint of a return by saying he ``missed'' international football and that he had ``unfinished business'' with the Irish team.

It is unclear whether Keane will make himself available for the upcoming friendlies with Poland and Romania or wait until the qualifiers kick off in September.

Former Irish striker Frank Stapleton admits reaction to Roy Keane's international return will be mixed but believes the player's return will benefit the team.

Stapleton said: ``I think the fans will be as split as they were when Mick McCarthy lost his job. But a bit of time has gone and the fact they have not qualified for Euro 2004 will remind people. It is a boost for Irish football, forget what happened in the past.

``I think any possibility that improves chances of getting to the World Cup finals, the players will welcome it.''

Keane's former international team-mate Ray Houghton believes Ireland need the United skipper and missed him during their unsuccessful attempt to qualify for Euro 2004.

Houghton said: ``I think the timing is strange, there are no World Cup qualifiers until September, but after watching them recently against Brazil and the Czech Republic he's maybe seen it's the thing he's been missing.

``Maybe he's let them down in the past and has something to prove. He's got considerable experience and they've been missing that. The players have got to be big enough to understand the decision and got to put dislikes behind them. He's doing it for the good of the country.''

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© 2003 Irish Republican News