If Roy Keane is right about England, then we're all a bunch of eejits
You could tell that Roy Keane had been waiting for this.
Like many of us in Ireland, Keane had been waiting to see England outrun, outgunned — and out of the World Cup.
Luka Modric and the Hrvatski golden generation made England's players look their age last night, and football neglected to come home once more. Make that 52 years of hurt, Frank.
And Roy Keane, who has spent his World Cup sandwiched between Gary Neville and Lee Dixon and Ian Wright, had been waiting.
"Before the game, and yesterday and today, they were talking about England, the whole talk about the final, the final, France," he said, clearly savouring it. "You have to focus just on one game and everyone was talking about the final and football's coming home. I don't mind you being happy, but you're getting carried away."
The icy glare, the clenched jaw, the gritted teeth. Like a grizzled Arctic explorer who has been frozen in time since people greeted each other with a studs-up lunge. Classic Roy Keane.
"I was right. You were planning the final, where the parades were. You need a reality check. Get excited when they get to the final, this was the semi-final! You're talking about the final, you're a grown man, you played the game."
Of course, it's a real challenge for any Irish person to look past the obnoxiousness that was Ian Wright responding by mocking Keane's Cork accent, but when it comes down to it... Keane is flat out wrong. We're just pretending he's not.
We tell ourselves he's right. Last night, I saw it in action. I wrote about how Roy Keane went full Roy Keane on the England result and I watched 30,000 people click it in 75 minutes. It had 1,000 likes on Facebook in the same time, and hundreds of shares. Dead right! Bang on! Keano putting them in their place again!
Why can't we be excited Roy? Why can't we be happy? We loved every minute of it! 🤷🏾♂️ 🦁🦁🦁 pic.twitter.com/F5rNH6wcHu
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) July 11, 2018
But he's fooled us.
After all, Roy Keane isn't just a pundit. He's also the assistant manager of Ireland.
If celebrating a semi-final run is something to be embarrassed about then what does that make a 5-1 play-off defeat to Denmark on your own turf? If John Stones and Kyle Walker can be pilloried, then what is there to say about Glenn Whelan and Shane Long?
If Gareth Southgate hasn't done a phenomenal job, then how can Roy Keane think that he and Martin O'Neill's positions are still tenable?
If England fans, players and pundits can't celebrate this — then what hope is there for us?
And before anyone leaps in with the argument that the expectations should be different for England because it's a bigger country, I'd remind you that they've just been dumped out of the tournament by the nation of Croatia. A country of 4.1 million people that didn't even exist 28 years ago.
For England to have reached this semi-final with a group of players that have virtually no World Cup experience, and a manager who ended up in the job by accident, is a huge achievement. It's the furthest they've gotten in 28 years. David Beckham couldn't take them there. Steven Gerrard couldn't drag them there. Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Alan Shearer, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes — not a one of them can match what Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier and Jordan Pickford have achieved at the first time of asking.
The England fans deserved every minute of their excitement. Were they supposed to reserve their chanting until the final whistle of the final match? And even then, only if they'd won? They weren't supposed to think of where a winning parade might be held?
But we can't accept that Roy is wrong. We let the myth continue in the hopes that one day we'll wake up and it'll be 2002 again, and he'll be leading us out against Spain in the round of 16 and we'll be able to say: "We stood by him the whole time."
After 16 plus years, I'm ready to say it. He was wrong in Saipan. Not one of his complaints, not his pride, not his perfectionism, not a single one of his concerns should have come before the good of his team and the good of his country.
It's absurd that we still gaslight ourselves into thinking that it's even a real debate.
Roy or Mick? Was he right to leave? Get a grip. Training bibs arriving late, a rock hard training surface, a bad relationship with the manager? Whatever. Do your job as a player. And if you can't do your job as a player, accept that you've forfeited the right to tell the rest of us how to do our job as fans.
If we really agree with Keane that the Brits had no right to lose the run of themselves throughout their dazzling World Cup run, then how do we justify idolising Roy Keane?
If the England fans are blinkered, far too wrapped up in the minuscule achievements of their team... What does it say about us that we idolise a man whose finest moments in an Ireland jersey came in the bloody qualifiers?
We were excited to beat the Netherlands 1-0 in Lansdowne Road. To hold Portugal to a draw. To scrape past Iran in the play-offs. And to treat the players who got us there as heroes. Because that's how it's supposed to be.
We sing "You'll Never Beat the Irish". It probably makes Roy Keane want to hurl his Diadoras into the stand, but we're not going to stop.
Ray Houghton is a national hero, but by Keane's metric, all he ever really did was score against England. Packie Bonner? Just a good goalkeeper. If Roy Keane had to assess his own Ireland career, "at the end of the day like", he'd be forced to admit that it was nothing to get excited about.
And it kills me to say that. It feels like treason. But if it is, it's treason against a king who doesn't care for his people. He told us as much after our embarrassing exit in Euro 2012 — "I’m not too happy with all that nonsense. To praise the supporters for sake of it. Let’s change that attitude towards Irish supporters. It’s just nonsense from players speaking after the games about how great the supporters are."
Because of his job, Keane can't talk about the Ireland fans that way anymore, but his comments last night prove that he still believes it.
We want to love Keane because he's a hard man. Because you'd never see him crying on the pitch. Because he still talks like a winner, even though it's been some time since he won anything.
But if Roy Keane truly is right about football, then we're all a bunch of fucking eejits.