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"Hero or villain, patriot or traitor"

So the Irish nation is once again gripped by the latest instalment in the Roy Keane soap opera.

Not for the first time in his volatile and captivating career, Keane has left a trail of wreckage in his wake as all are left to ponder whether his rapid departure as Sunderland manager on Thursday was the final episode of a drama that has been unpredictably fascinating from the off.

There may never have been a sportsman who has divided opinions like Cork's most talked-about export and as fans across Ireland who had adopted 'SunIreland' as their second team in the last couple of years got to grips with Keane's demise, the post mortems began.

To those who stand by the perception that Keano walked out on his country prior to the 2002 World Cup finals, his hasty exit as Sunderland boss was further proof that he had again been exposed a fraud whose tough guy image is not backed-up by his actions.

Then there are others who believe the Keano gospel is worthy of worship. That his each and every action on the field was justified by the fact that he was a hero whose passion to win should be admired rather than feared. In their eyes, Roy will always be a less than traditional saint.

The Irish nation tends to look towards to Eamon Dunphy to throw some perspective on events in times of a crisis like this and the man who penned Keane's best-selling autobiography in 2002 was quick to pass judgement on the character he once believed to be a friend.

Many in Ireland view Dunphy with cynicism as his determination to criticise at all costs has turned him into something of a figure of fun. However, his honesty and forthright opinion is always interesting and after claiming his former golden boy 'lost the plot' and was 'never going to be a serious manager' in the last few weeks, his epitaph for Keane the manager was considered.

"The cult of Roy Keane and everything he stood for hung heavily over the players at Sunderland," believes Dunphy. "He has been a bit of a drama queen at times and failed as a manager because he didn't know how to work with people.

"Roy went straight into a major club without doing the ground work the likes of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley or Jose Mourinho put in. They worked their way towards the top and understand how to be a manager by the time they got there, but Roy had a lot of baggage from day one.

"Giving the Clint Eastwood stare and trying to rule by fear it doesn't work in the modern game and on top of that, and his transfer dealings have been terrible. He has got 40 players in and 40 out in his two years at Sunderland and that can hardly be viewed as stability."

Ireland legend John Giles was equally critical. Dunphy's side-kick on RTE's soccer coverage has never been convinced that Keane has earned the status he carries among some in his homeland and he admitted as much in his column in The Herald newspaper.

"I've never been able to get a handle on Roy Keane," he wrote. "I have huge admiration for him as a player and would rate him up there with the very best in the game. He had the perfect attitude to football - great leadership qualities, great mobility and utter certainty in his commitment to winning.

"But I've never understood the quirks in his personality that we have seen unfold through the years, and the one that baffles me completely is his willingness to talk so much about so many subjects and most recently, about his own future in the game.

"Apart from the questions he raised by the simple fact he was thinking in such a negative manner, he placed instability at the heart of his club at a time when there were real problems on the pitch."

The coverage in the Friday morning newspapers in Ireland summed up the dichotomy this man creates. The Irish Independent had one headline claiming Keane was: 'A warrior bowed but not defeated'. The same paper also featured an article from veteran writer James Lawton providing a withering assessment of the man in the eye of the storm.

"What he did in leaving Sunderland - and if it sounds cruel it maybe needs to be remembered that few football men have been more stridently judgmental of those around them - was run away," believes Lawton.

"He ran away from the first serious problem in some years of fine and promising work. He ran away from the £70m worth of team-strengthening with which he had been entrusted. When the hour of crisis called, Keane went missing."

Ian O'Doherty offered an alternative view in the same newspaper. "Hero or villain, patriot or traitor, the reason the debate about whether he left us in the lurch or was treated disgracefully by the tyranny of small men and their cult of mediocrity became so vociferous was because we saw in Keane a reflection of ourselves," he penned, harking back to the events at the 2002 World Cup that are so ingrained in the Irish psyche.

"His latest move was another example of Roy Keane looking out for what is best for Roy Keane, and, in many ways, that was both his strength and his ultimate weakness. No player has ever exuded quite such a degree of determination and almost suicidal belief in the cause. He was, in every sense of the word, a warrior."

A professional perspective comes from Ireland and Liverpool legend John Aldridge, who himself failed to achieve success as a top flight manager. "You have to realise that Roy will have been struggling to cope with what was a massive job at Sunderland and I would urge anyone criticising him to realise what it can do to you," says Aldo.

"I was under incredible strain in my time as Tranmere manager and felt as if I was going mad at times near the end. If Roy was letting the job get to him, he is right to get out of it."

A parting of the ways may have been inevitable as Sunderland's new American investor, Ellis Short, was apparently less than enamoured by the idea of giving Keane another healthy pot of cash to spend in January after his woeful transfer dealings last summer, but the notion that this warrior walked out on the club hangs over him today.

The word 'quitter' is not one Keane would want to be associated with, but his latest career move adds fuel to the fires of those who view him as such.

It is hard to know whether we ever see him back in the game again. The group of Irishmen who gave this enigma his managerial chance at Sunderland are likely to be the most supportive backers he will come across and any notion that he is in line to succeed Alex Ferguson at his beloved Manchester United can now be banished.

Theories that he had mellowed as a manager have been quashed by his predictably divisive Sunderland exit and it will take a brave chairman to appoint Roy Keane as his manager any time soon.


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