Week in 2000 that changed the course of Irish soccer — August 2010

IT WAS the week of Copper Face Jacks, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, a cell in the Bridewell, cheese sandwiches and takeway pizzas.
It was the week of Richard Dunne’s competitive debut, Jason McAteer coming in from the cold and Ireland shocking Holland by going 2–0 up in Amsterdam.
It was the week when Roy Keane railed against Irish complacency and set the tone for the last successful qualifying campaign.
In short, that week 10 years ago changed everything.
If the events of those few days had never taken place, there is an argument that everything from Saipan to the Genesis Report, from Mick McCarthy losing his job to John Delaney taking the reins at the FAI, from the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road to the ambitious capture of Giovanni Trapattoni, would never have happened.
And it all started in a Dublin nightclub called Lillies Bordello.
The Irish players had assembled at the Citywest Hotel on Monday, August 28, 2000 to begin preparations for their opening World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam the following Saturday.
Mick McCarthy told them they could have a night out as it would be be a demanding week.
Most of the players hit the VIP bar in Lillies, having a few quiet drinks in a corner — but Phil Babb and Mark Kennedy were buzzing and giddy.
They left their team-mates to mingle with the punters in the main bar and were still in the mood to party when they left Lillies.
Babb and Kennedy hit Coppers with a vengeance and were quickly the worse for wear. They were refused drink by a barman at 2.30am, but hung around for an hour before heading into the Harcourt Street air.
The fresh air reignited their appetite for mischief and, instead of turning left towards the taxi rank on Stephen’s Green, they headed right towards a row of parked cars.
For some reason known only to themselves, they decided to play ‘Starsky and Hutch’, climbing on the roof of one car and jumping from one roof to the next.
One jump too far. The sunroof on a yellow Volkswagen Beetle broke under their weight and they slipped to the ground in a fit of giggles.
The car belonged to Elaine Farrell, an off-duty Garda who was standing nearby.
Farrell gave chase and managed to catch Babb and Kennedy just as they were climbing into a taxi.
A few hours later, they were being led from their cells in the Bridewell to District Court 46.
McCarthy watched from the public gallery with steam coming out of his ears as the charges of causing criminal damage, breaching the peace and being drunk and disorderly were laid against his players.
The case was adourjned until the following November but McCarthy took action of his own.
Kennedy and Babb were dropped from the squad — and the domino effect kicked in. Richard Dunne came in for Babb to make his competitive debut and was one of the best players on the pitch against Holland.
Jason McAteer came out of the shadows to replace Kennedy and he too made a big impact in the Amsterdam Arena.
McAteer delivered the cross for Robbie Keane to put Ireland in front and later fired home to make it 2–0.
Would McAteer have had the nerve to score that momentous goal against Holland at Lansdowne Road a year later if he didn’t have the memory of his performance in Amsterdam?
The Dutch did rally to snatch a point thanks to goals from Jeffrey Talan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Dunne made a vital tackle on Patrick Kluivert in injury-time.
At the final whistle, many of the Irish players celebrated an unexpected away point with wild abandon but captain Keane stormed off the pitch with a face like thunder.
And his mood was still dark when a battery of microphones were stuck in his face a couple of minutes later.
“We have to start giving ourselves a bit more credit and realise that we have got some good players,” said Keane.
“I’m sick to death of this old saying that the Irish will have a good time no matter what the result.
“I think we have got to aim a little higher. We’ve got to win matches.
“It is time we started qualifying for major finals again.
“We haven’t made it to any of the big tournaments since 1994 and when that happens you get into a bit of a rut.
“Even tonight the fans will be happy with a 2–2 draw in Holland, of course they will.
“But we are professional players. We were 2–0 up and we should have shut up shop.”
Cracks had started to appear in Keane’s relationship with his manager and he’d publicly backed Babb and Kennedy after their night-time antics.
On the eve of the game, the Ireland players were given cheese sandwiches to eat when Keane had expected pasta, fruit and cereals. He stormed back to his room and ordered a pizza over the phone.
The festering tensions from that week would eventually become open sores on the Pacific island of Saipan less than two years later.
Everything goes back to Saipan, and Saipan goes back to Harcourt Street.
Delaney came to prominence during that spat between Keane and McCarthy in 2002 — and the seeds were planted then for him to eventually take ownership of the FAI.
The Genesis Report into the Saipan debacle was scathing of the FAI and set in process the modernisation of the organisation that spurred some big decisions in the future.
These included the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road in tandem with the IRFU and the ambitious — and expensive — courtship of Trapattoni.
There are many in Irish football who should be grateful to Starsky and Hutch and their night in Coppers.

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