Shamed Babb and Kennedy sent home

Mark Kennedy, the Manchester City winger, and Phil Babb, the former Liverpool defender, were dropped from the Republic of Ireland squad yesterday after appearing in court here charged with drunken and abusive behaviour and causing criminal damage.

Mark Kennedy, the Manchester City winger, and Phil Babb, the former Liverpool defender, were dropped from the Republic of Ireland squad yesterday after appearing in court here charged with drunken and abusive behaviour and causing criminal damage.

The pair, who were here to prepare for the Republic's World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Saturday, were released on bail of IR£950 (about £900) each and ordered to appear in court again in November. They were then sent home from the Irish international camp.

Kennedy and Babb, who is now with Sporting Lisbon, were arrested by a woman police officer in central Dublin in the early hours of yesterday morning. Damage had been caused to a private car owned by the officer. The footballers appeared in court later in the day.

The two players appeared at a news conference here and were visibly shaken by events. Accompanied by the Republic of Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy, 29-year-old Babb said that it was hard to convey how badly he felt. "Definitely it was just a prank which got out of hand," he said. " It's a very sad thing to happen coming up to such a big game. I would like to apologise to the young lady and for any damage that was caused to her car."

Kennedy, who at times appeared on the verge of tears, said he felt "completely gutted" on waking in police custody. "It's a terrible thing to have happened, but I have to be responsible for my actions now," he said. "I'd like to apologise to the manager, the other players, my family and my girlfriend."

Despite the apologies after their court appearance, McCarthy pointed out that the pair had an opportunity to express their regrets to the police officer involved at an earlier stage. "They didn't take it," he said. "But I suppose when you're walking up the steps of a courtroom, a lot of things are on your mind.

"If anything good has come out of this incident, it's the fact that both players came up here and faced the press. They didn't have to do that. But, make no mistake, this is a bad day and everyone involved is a loser."

Kennedy and Babb had arrived in Dublin on Monday evening from their respective clubs, with the intention of joining up with the rest of the squad yesterday morning. On what the players regarded as an evening off, they met with various team-mates at a Dublin nightclub.

After the other players retired to the team hotel, witnesses reported seeing Kennedy and Babb on the bonnet of a car, apparently unaware that the city's largest police station was just yards away. After their arrest, a police source described the pair as "arrogant". He said: "They were pretty cocky and arrogant, shouting and roaring for a good while. But after a while, they slept it off."

Yesterday McCarthy, about to embark on his third qualifying campaign for a major tournament as manager, refused to rule out the players for the Republic's next game, against Portugal in Lisbon on 8 October.

"I'll get next Saturday's game out of the way first and then reflect on what's happening," he said. "I believe this is the sensible thing to do. Knee-jerk reactions are one thing, but you can end up with egg on your face as a result.

"Today's decision wasn't one I enjoyed making, but it was an issue on which I felt strongly and I had no qualms about making it."

McCarthy added: "The morale in the squad is first class and that won't change. Out of adversity comes strength. My words will still be ringing in their ears. But I know both players will wish the rest of the squad the best. Of course, they would want to come to Holland. But my decision and that of the FAI is final."

Both men had been expected to start Saturday's game at the Amsterdam ArenA and yesterday's incident undermines the Republic's hopes of taking at least a point from the Euro 2000 semi-finalists.

The Football Association of Ireland's chief executive, Bernard O'Byrne, did not indicate whether any further punishment would be handed out to the players. "Everyone's a loser in this situation. Leaving the squad is a punishment in itself," he said.

Manchester City, Kennedy's club, are awaiting full details of the situation from the FA of Ireland. Their chief operating officer, Chris Bird, said: "We're obviously very disappointed by the news, but we will not be commenting on the matter until we receive a full report from the FA ofIreland."

The incident happened on a particularly bad day for the FAI, which revealed yesterday that the former state-owned telecommunications company, eircom, is the new official sponsor of the national team.

The sponsorship deal, which is beginning two years ahead of schedule due to the early withdrawal of the previous sponsor, Opel, runs until 2012 and will span three World Cup and three European Championship qualifying campaigns.

The sponsorship is part of an IR£18m deal unveiled last year which also covers sponsorship of the eircom League and eircom Park, a planned new football stadium for Dublin.

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