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exclusive As Roy Keane turns 50, Denis Irwin and Andy Cole look back on his finest hour

Keane led Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final with a commanding performance against Juventus in Turin

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Roy Keane produced a famous performance in the win over Juventus.

Roy Keane produced a famous performance in the win over Juventus.

Roy Keane produced a famous performance in the win over Juventus.

It was a night that defined a career and drove Manchester United towards their greatest triumph, with Roy Keane's command performance against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final 22 years ago still remembered as one of the best displays by an Irish sportsman.

The date was April 21st 1999, as Keane dragged United into the Champions League final after they fell 2-0 behind against a Juve team the included Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Alessandro Del Piero in Turin.

After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford, the tie seemed to have slipped away from Alex Ferguson’s side as two Filippo Inzaghi goals pushed Juve to the brink of the final with goals that could have shattered United’s spirit.

Yet Keane rarely worked to a conventional agenda and after his header gave United hope, before Dwight Yorke fired United into an away goals advantage with eleven minutes still to play in a frantic first half.

Sandwiched between those two goals was a moment that robbed Keane of his only chance to play in a Champions League final, as he was booked for a foul on Zidane mid-way through the first half.

The yellow card ensured Keane would not play in the final if United plotted a route through, yet his compatriot and room-mate Denis Irwin, a starter in that game against Juventus, recalls his performance merely moved up a few levels after his booking.

"We were two goals down against one of the best teams we played against in that era and he pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a fantastic headed goal and then his performance was just fantastic," Irwin told the Sunday World.

"They had an incredible midfield with Davids, Deschamps and Zidane, but Keany took them all on that night and came out on top. He was just incredible and it was a tragedy that he couldn’t play in the final."

Irwin also reflected that one of United starter on that night in Turin was more than a little concerned that he would face the wrath of Keane, after his wayward pass led to the booking.

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25 September 2018; Roy Keane, left, and Denis Irwin of Manchester United Legends following the Liam Miller Memorial match between Manchester United Legends and Republic of Ireland & Celtic Legends at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

25 September 2018; Roy Keane, left, and Denis Irwin of Manchester United Legends following the Liam Miller Memorial match between Manchester United Legends and Republic of Ireland & Celtic Legends at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

25 September 2018; Roy Keane, left, and Denis Irwin of Manchester United Legends following the Liam Miller Memorial match between Manchester United Legends and Republic of Ireland & Celtic Legends at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"I remember Jesper Blomqvist was trying to avoid Keany for a few weeks after that semi-final because it was his pass that led to the booking," adds Irwin.

"Roy had a word with him on the field at the time, but I think Jesper thought more would come. A lot of the lads were wary of Roy and didn’t want to upset him, so poor Jesper probably feared what was coming to him."

A late clinching goal from Andy Cole secured United a place in their first European Cup final since 1968, with victory against Bayern Munich in the most dramatic fashion imaginable firing allowing Ferguson’s side to clinch a unique place in the game’s history books as they became the first English side to complete a League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.

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Keane's firebrand image has been bolstered by his appearances on Sky Sports in recent years, but Cole suggests his impact off the field was as significant as the mark he left on it.

"Skip is a legend, I won't have a word said against him. I always had a good relationship with Roy and however people want to portray him and criticism him, I'd just say he is a real, real special guy," Cole told sundayworld.com/

"I'm only judging him on how he has treated me, the conversations we have had and I know that he is always there on the end of the phone if I need anything. Skip is a real good guy.

"If it is a problem for the modern day player to be spoken to in the way Roy can speak to you, I can't help them.

"In my days playing, you were told what time to turn up for training and you were expected to give your all in every session. If you can't digest that, you will struggle.

"You don't have a lot of characters like that in dressing rooms anymore. He would say what he thinks and it might get under people's skin at times and people might not like that.

"There are so many games that stand out for me playing with Roy and it's not just that semi-final against Juventus in Turin.

"He knew he was going to miss the final due to suspension, but he drove us on to a win that night and it was an incredible performance. People often talk about that and yet there were so many times when Roy did that kind of thing.

"There were so many games when he stood up, took a game by the scruff of the neck and let everyone know they had to come with him or else. He let us know we were going to war here.

"We are all very respectful to him and what he brought to the club and our team. He had so many facets to his game and it was not just his great leadership qualities. He could play football as well."

While Keane may be a controversial figure for many, there is no doubt that he is a football giant who remains as captivating to watch in his new role as a TV pundit as he was in his playing days.

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