Exclusive: Former International Jason McAteer Reflects on Ireland's Glory Days and the Roy Keane Controversy in Japan

Former Ireland star Jason McAteer discusses his rise from humble beginnings to World Cup hero, including the Roy Keane controversy in Japan.

Neil Goulding
Neil Goulding

Last Updated: 2024-06-06

Louis Hobbs

6 minutes read

Former Liverpool player Jason McAteer before the pre-season friendly match between Liverpool and Napoli at BT Murrayfield

Former Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer has revealed he could never have dreamt of playing at a World Cup – let alone two!

Humble Beginnings 

But the Birkenhead-born full-back did exactly that despite fearing he might never make it as a footballer and being forced to go on the doll during some dark times as a teenager.

Despite a tough start to his career, McAteer, was capped 52 times by his country, and enjoyed Premier League promotion with Bolton Wanderers.

He earnt a high-profile £4.5million move to Liverpool in the topflight under Kenny Dalglish and also enjoyed spells at Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers across a career which spanned over 400 league appearances.

Image Credits: Metro

Image Credits: Metro

Rapid Rise to the National Stage 

“In three and a half seasons I went from playing for Marine in their reserve team to being an established international and playing in the World Cup (1996) at Giant Stadium against Italy in front of 100,000,” revealed McAteer.

“Six months later I came on for Ray Houghton after signing for Liverpool, it was crazy.

“I actually signed on the doll when I was younger, it was horrible.

“But then, when I was 20, I got offered a soccer scholarship in America and I came back and went back to Marine reserves.

Breakthrough at Bolton 

“I went back, got scouted by Bolton and after a trial I got my first deal.

“Bruce Rioch gave me a year contract straight away, that was the start of my ‘proper’ football career.

“I was thrown in at 20 into a first team dressing room, it was a tough old school dressing room. There was bullying and fights, it was a real tough learning curve for me.

“But you’ve got to survive. I quickly found that I was the class clown – and I played up to that, my nickname was ‘Trigger’. I didn’t mind it, it helped me.

“You know, it’s sink or swim (at that level), you’re thrown in at the deep end and you’ve got to survive.”

World Cup Success in 1994 

But McAteer was no joker – and he showed with his performances on the pitch that he could mix it with the best in the world.

At the 1994 World Cup in the United States the ROI famously beat Italy 1-0 and became national heroes for advancing to the knockout stages after finishing second in the group stage.

But they frustratingly missed out on a coveted quarter-final berth after a 2-0 loss to the Netherlands in the knockout phase.

However, McAteer got another crack at the World Cup eight years later in Japan. Again, the ROI progressed out of their group, the highlight a fine battling 1-1 draw with world cup winners Germany.

They lost agonisingly on penalties to Spain in the knockout stage with a quarter-final place with their grasp.

A Hero’s Return 

“You know, I’ve come back a superstar (from the World Cup), the professional footballer was growing in confidence all the time,” McAteer, also an FA Cup and League Cup finalist, told

“If you come back from a World Cup playing against (Paolo) Maldini, you know, it’s great, and a hero of an entire nation, it was a special feeling.

The Infamous Roy Keane Dispute 

“But at the 2002 World Cup, when Roy Keane walked out, we were so far behind the times.

“That wasn’t changing anytime soon, the lack of professionalism was still happening in 2002 with the Ireland set-up.”

Neil Goulding
Neil GouldingSenior Sports Reporter

Neil has been a journalist for longer than he'd care to remember, having written for national newspapers and respected publications for over 25 years. For the last three years he has worked freelance for BBC Sport, working on the production desk as a sub-editor and also as a writer, covering a whole range of sports.