Byline: CATHAL DERVAN in SAIPAN
THE Republic of Ireland's much heralded arrival in Japan was about as dramatic as a ritual Scottish World Cup exit.
The silence was deafening as Mick McCarthy, 23 players and his backroom staff shuffled through the arrivals hall at Tokyo's Narita International Airport at 8.45 am local time yesterday morning.
Jet-lagged and dazed after an 18 hour journey from Dublin via Amsterdam, Roy Keane and co. were completely underwhelmned by the non-existent reception awaiting them in the Japanese capital.
There had been more fuss and more of an Oriental feel when the Irish players said goodbye to the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the fans at Dublin Airport on Friday morning.
Only the best wishes of the Dutch KLM staff, who had flown them from Schipol Airport, and a few World Cup posters scattered around the Tokyo transfer lounge hinted at the drama to come when sport's biggest tournament hits the Orient next month.
And the Irish players celebrated their low-key arrival in the land of the rising sun with nothing stronger than caffeine and orange juice as they sat around the airport lounge, listening to and laughing at the comedy Gift Grub CD that takes the Michael out of their very own Captain Roy.
Then, an hour or so later, after Dean Kiely had persuaded immigration officials that he was not the Dean Kelly named on his boarding pass, they were off on their travels again, on the three-hour NorthWest flight 0076 to the Pacific hideaway of Saipan.
"It was all very low-key for the hour or so we were in Japan," admitted Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given "But I know it will be very different in less than two week's time when we fly into Niigata for the opening game against Cameroon.
"There will be a lot of atmosphere around then and a lot of mad Irishmen adding to it. We are here now to prepare for those finals and it is a great feeling.
"We qualified last November but we have had to wait until now to take to the World Cup stage. It is something we are all looking forward to."
The Irish team will spend the next six days on the Pacific island of Saipan, a haven of sun, sea and some very seedy bars.
They will sweat it out in morning training sessions conducted in temperatures of 80 degrees and humidity approaching 84 per cent as McCarthy begins the real work ahead of the Group E clashes with Cameroon, Germany and Saudi Arabia. …