Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Roy Keane Debate on Prime Time

Whatever else may accrue from the return of the great lost leader to the national colours, the nation may rest assured of one thing: Roy Keane’s return to international soccer gave us the single greatest fifteen minutes of current affairs television in the history of Prime Time.

Prime Time’s boring current affairs remit would be taken up later in the show by the boring Shinners and the boring war in Iraq, but RTÉ looked into the heart of the people, and saw that one thing was etched in the nation’s heart, and that one thing was Roy Maurice Keane. We wanted a Keano debate, and we were not to be disappointed.

Cut to Miriam O’Callaghan, and her sideshow of soccerati. Reading from right to left, we had Alan Hunter (I’m not sure of his name, but his stellar contribution will live on while my bones have long turned to dust), head of some sort of supporters’ club; Peter Bryne, late of the Irish Times, and Eamon Dunphy, pundit, writer, biographer, broadcaster, and boulvardier.

Miriam opened service by lobbing a gentle half-volley towards the patrician form of the former chief soccer correspondent of the Irish Times: How dare Roy Keane come back to the Irish team after stabbing us all in the back?

Peter was having none of it. As for as Peter was concerned, Roy had broken more hearts than a combination of Rudolf Valentino and Pepe Le Peu, and his return could only mean The End of Civilisation as We Know It.

If Peter was having none of Keano, the Dunph was having none of Peter. “Peter Byrne is full of this same old guff about the jersey,” sneered Dunphy, as only he can, and placed Keano up there in the pantheon of current Irish sporting greats who prepare properly, unlike the FAI, who do not prepare properly and are therefore “a joke.”

Things were getting heated – time for some comic relief. Cut to Alan Hunter, who looked like a team of covert RTÉ operatives had snatched him from his fireside where he’d just been enjoying a mug of cocoa and an instructive read of the Herald. In a fashion statement seldom seen in the Prime Time studios, Alan was wearing, reading north from the equator, a red shirt, a gaudy tie, the chunkiest woolly cardie ever seen on television, a startlingly bristly red moustache, longish red hair combed straight back and a red face, to complete the cleverly co-ordinated ensemble.

Like few of the great thinkers, Alan was able to maintain two conflicting ideas existing in the same reality at once. Alan was delighted to have Roy Keane back playing for Ireland meaning that, as he so poetically put it, “Roy Keane will finish his Irish career in a green shirt under a blue sky rather than a grey cloud.” At the same time, Alan was highly concerned that Peter had a point, and that the return of Keano would lead to The End of Civilisation as We Know It.

At this point Miriam, like the good pro she is, sensed that in Alan she had a glugger of the first water. Better to stir things up between the Dunph and Peter Byrne, just as she had when she chaired a Saipan debate two years ago between the Dunph and Cathal Dervan – what memories, to think back to those two great soccer stags rutting for her favour!

Peter and Eamon were coming to the boil nicely. Peter thought that the only reason that Robbie Keane and Damien Duff played as well as they did in the World Cup was because Roy Keane wasn’t around (to take their lunch money and pull their hair, by implication). Eamo was having none of it, countering that great players will always come to the fore, and that anything Peter Byrne says is compromised by Byrne’s position as Jack Charlton’s biographer, Jack Charlton’s tenure as Irish manager being, as far as Eamon is concerned, the End of Civilisation as We Knew It.

The debate raged between the two old warriors, but, out of the corner of her eye, Miriam could see that Alan was getting agitated. She thought she’d better give him a go.

In an historic moment that stands proud with Parnell’s declaration that no-one shall call a halt to the march of a nation and DeValera’s reply to Churchill, a by-now quite agitated Alan told the nation that the crisis of Roy Keane’s return was so severe as to require a plebiscite of the people. The question of whether or not Roy Keane should play soccer for Ireland should be decided by process of constitutional referendum.

Miriam was, understandably, stunned by this. The slightest trace of a smirk could be seen around her perfectly rouged lips. The Dunph had enough – he realised that it was time to settle the debate once and for all. Drawing the most famous grizzled and craggy head in the field of soccer punditry closer to the mike that not a drop of bile should be missed, Eamon Dunphy asked the question the Nation needed answered:

“Miriam,” he asked, “where did you get these guys?”

Cue pandemonium. The frown on Peter Bryne’s face darkened and deepened, while Alan decided that the time for talking was through. “There are a lot of people who’d like to be sitting as close to Eamon Dunphy as I am now,” said Alan, while punching his open palm with his fist.

Miriam realised that the ancient need of the masses for bread and circuses had been appeased. Over to Iraq, after the fifteen golden minutes of sheer televisual quality. If Roy can do as well with emerald green on his back, all will be well in Erin.