Mark Kinsella: "No one else knew that I'd been told that you're going to be No 12"

The former Ireland midfielder talks the 2002 World Cup and the effect of Saipan with Newstalk's Team 33

Mark Kinsella, Ireland, Saipan

Mark Kinsella ©INPHO/Tom Honan

Before May 2002, Saipan was simply known as the name of one of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

But by the time that month was out, the island became a byword for Irish football's biggest story as Roy Keane's eventual departure from the squad occurred and the then-Ireland captain missed the 2002 World Cup.

This week on Newstalk's Team 33, we're playing out the second and final part of our in-depth interview with former Ireland midfielder Mark Kinsella, starting off with the events of Saipan which had a direct bearing on whether the former Charlton and Aston player would be starting at the once-in-a-lifetime tournament. 

You can listen to the full interview with Mark on the podcast player just below or on iTunes. Last week's Part 1 is also available on Newstalk.com and iTunes.

With Keane a nailed-on starter as the captain, leader and world class talent, the role of partnering the Manchester United legend in midfield at the World Cup was between Kinsella and Holland. The latter was in good form and Kinsella was also making his way back from surgery on an injury issue in the lead-up to the tournament.

But before the Ireland squad even arrived in Saipan for the pre-World Cup preparations, Kinsella was informed that he wasn't going to be starting as Ireland manager Mick McCarthy intended to field Keane and Matt Holland together from the opening game against Cameroon. 

"I was in Dublin airport and I got a buzz from Big Tony saying 'the gaffer wants to see you'. So I went to sit down with Mick and he said, 'You're going to be No 12. I'm going with Mattie [Holland],'" Kinsella recalls.

"Did my World Cup end there? When you're not in the starting XI, you get 10 minutes here, a cameo role there. So I was sort of a downer straight there."

Of course, the events of Saipan then happened afterwards - although for a very brief period there was a will-he-won't-he situation as it became unclear whether Keane was in fact departing the Ireland camp or staying.

And the knock on effect on Kinsella, as the next central midfielder in line after Keane and Holland, was a short period when it was in the balance whether he would start the World Cup matches or end up on the bench as McCarthy originally intended.

There was also intense press scrutiny on the island - and back home over here as we can all remember from the time. Kinsella made a point of staying away from the media circus as things unfolded.

"I just stayed out of it because the press then were straight on it and they were around the hotel. I just didn't want to be quoted because no one else knew that I'd been told that you're going to be No 12. So I didn't want to be quoted on anything," he said.

"I just sort of kept myself to myself while this was going on."  

The Cameroon game was closing in and Kinsella's squad status was changing rapidly: "My mindset had been unless someone got injured, I'd be ready to play but this was a completely different way of starting a campaign." 

And with Keane ultimately not involved, the microscope would fall on the newly established pairing of Kinsella and Holland who were tasked with manning the Irish midfield as the World Cup began in earnest.

"Me and Mattie did the best we could and that Cameroon game, the pressure on the pair of us going into that game...," he said. 

"Mick obviously pulled us (Matt and I) aside when it all died down and we'd got to the training camp, and said, 'Listen, it's the pair of you now'".

In the full Part 2 of the Mark Kinsella interview, he also looked back on the games against Cameroon, Germany (his long pass to Niall Quinn led to the famous Robbie Keane equaliser) and Spain before discussing his transfer to Aston Villa and the pitfalls for budding managers and coaches in the cut-throat world of UK football.