Jason McAteer on the "ridiculous challenge" which hampered his 2002 World Cup

Ireland legend chats to Team 33's Raf Diallo

Jason McAteer

Jason McAteer ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Fitness concerns are always a worry heading into major tournaments and for us, Robbie Keane is one for Euro 2016.

Back in 2002, Jason McAteer's World Cup was dented before it had even started and he shared that story with Newstalk's Team 33.

You can listen to the full interview with Jason on the Team 33 podcast or stream on iTunes:

Ireland would start their World Cup group in Korea and Japan against Cameroon and one of our warm-up games in Japan that summer was against a Japanese club side called Sanfrecce Hiroshima featuring a Cameroonian defender by the name of Michel Pensée Billong.

McAteer played in that preparation game, yet suffered an injury which threatened his participation at the World Cup, although he ultimately made it into the squad.

However, he wasn't fully right for the tournament as he told me at the #PowerofGreen Storytellers event at Aviva Stadium.

"We just had a game the Saturday before we were to play Cameroon and it was a real friendly. It was one of them where we picked each other up and if the ball was going out we left it," he recalled.

"And for some reason, there was a ball played out to me on the right and I took a touch and I got it out of my feet and I got to the byline ready to cross and this lad - obviously now I know he was from Cameroon but you don't realise at the time - and he just went absolutely right through me. It was a ridiculous challenge. Obviously it caused murder and there was a bit of fighting going on and stuff. But all I remember was being stretchered off and [physio] Mick Byrne, he was telling me it was going to be alright and I was rushed straight to the hospital. I had a scan and it was revealed that I had ligament damage and then I spent all week trying to get fit."

He ultimately started the opening World Cup draw against Cameroon, having told Mick McCarthy that he was ready to go to the tournament, but was hauled off at half-time as he struggled with fitness.

"My knee was just massive. So obviously it had swollen up again and I iced it. Mick just looked at me and said, 'you're coming off.' And effectively that ended my tournament because I wasn't 100%."

He did get game-time in the third group game against Saudi Arabia but viewed it as a "gesture" of goodwill and support from the manager.

"It was disappointing," he concluded.

From next week, we'll bring you more #PowerofGreen chats on Team 33 including Ray Houghton and Mick Byrne.