Ireland manager Mick McCarthy has denied suggestions he forced his World Cup squad to choose between him or disgraced former captain Roy Keane.
Striker Niall Quinn, who sources close to the squad claim has been lobbying privately for Keane's return to Japan, hinted in an emotional news conference on Tuesday that he and others had been left with "no choice" but to take a stance against Keane.
But in a news conference later in the day, McCarthy -- who sent Keane home after the midfielder verbally abused him in a team meeting last week -- told reporters: "There was no ultimatum (to the players on Tuesday).
"I left (the issue) with them to decide... if the players wanted the situation reversed, I would go with them.
"I'm aware of people (outside the squad) trying to get Roy back, but it needs to be done properly.
"No apology has been offered by Roy. If I have to apologise for something, I pick up the phone to do it."
Quinn told Tuesday's news conference: "If he (Keane) had apologised on TV he would have been on his way to Japan right now -- there was a plane booked."
The veteran Ireland striker, clearly upset by the affair, wiped away a tear at one point as he revealed that the players held a meeting with McCarthy on Tuesday after a sleepless night.
"In the meeting Mick effectively ended any chance of Roy Keane appearing in the World Cup finals," said Quinn.
Nevertheless, McCarthy asked the players to discuss the matter among themselves.
"All 22 of us voted unanimously to back him (McCarthy)...no one here feels good about what's happened and we feel devastated for him."
To Quinn's surprise, a statement on behalf of the players was issued earlier than expected on Tuesday insisting that all 22 squad members did not want the midfielder back in the fold.
"Regrettably, the manner of Roy's behaviour prior to his departure from Saipan and the comments attributed to him since have left the staff and players in no doubt that the interests of the squad are best served without Roy's presence," the statement said.
Quinn added on RTE radio in Ireland: "...it was a very hard five to ten minutes alone in the room with just the players.
"There was no lobbying, everyone was asked their opinion, every single player, and we came out of that meeting with the statement as you see it. I think after you have spoken to Mick you'll understand we had no alternative."
The joint statement, in particular, appeared to act as a huge vote of confidence for McCarthy.
But rumours that he told the players "if Roy returns then I go" will refocus attention on his position just four days before their World Cup opener against Cameroon in Niigata on Saturday.
McCarthy had met with his players in the morning before telling reporters later that if Keane offered a personal apology for his outburst on the Pacific island of Saipan -- where Keane was unhappy with training facilities -- there might be a way back for the Manchester United player.
Such an apology was not forthcoming when Keane gave an interview to Irish television channel RTE on Monday.
"I've got nothing to apologise for...the ball is in their court (over a possible return to the squad)," Keane said.
A transcript of the interview was handed to McCarthy on Tuesday, but he remained defiant late in the day -- and at pains to clear up what was said in that fateful meeting in Saipan, when, it emerged, Keane was left fuming at accusations he decided which games he wanted to play in.
"We should not forget what happened and what was said (in the meeting)," McCarthy, who was unhappy at Keane's absence from his side's qualifying playoff second leg in Iran last November, said.
"This business is not of my choosing, but I was called all sorts of things and I didn't have to accept it.
"Yes, picking and choosing matches was something that was mentioned (in the Saipan meeting). I'm not bothered about friendlies, and yes, the Iran game was mentioned.
"But I was told I could not manage or that I could not coach."
Ireland also play Germany and Saudi Arabia in group E.