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Cork backs favourite son Keane

Roy Keane's native Cork last night rallied to his defence as he departed the Sunderland FC hot seat - with retailers already beginning to count the cost of his resignation.

Sports shops and news-agents had massively stocked up on Sunderland club memorabilia for the Christmas market ranging from replica shirts to calendars and posters.

With Sunderland's 'Keano' link gone, fears are mounting that the Wearside club's remarkable Irish popularity could now quickly begin to wane.

Throughout Cork pubs last night, there was staunch support for the former Manchester United, Celtic and Ireland star and his decision to depart the managerial hot seat.

Both in the Mountain Bar and the Templeacre Tavern - both closely associated with Roy and the Keane family - there were tributes for what the Mayfield-born star achieved in his first management role.

"Don't forget where Sunderland were when Roy took over. He brought them the 2nd Division title and got them into the Premiership. He kept them in the Premiership which is more than other managers like Mick McCarthy could do," one fan said.

Another fan warned critics to write-off Roy Keane at their peril.

"I have no doubt at all that Roy will be back in football. He has so much to offer the game that he will definitely be back - you can be sure of it," Pat Murphy said.

Since Roy Keane took up the helm as Sunderland manager, the Wearside club have enjoyed an astonishing growth in popularity in Ireland and, in particular, in Cork.

Sales of Sunderland replica kits rocketed on Leeside and the club's famous red-and-white jersey was the fifth most popular strip sold in some Cork shops last Christmas after Man Utd, Celtic, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Sunderland FC - which is owned by an Irish consortium led by Niall Quinn - even benefited from having coach loads of Irish fans travel to the north-east for key football matches.

Such was the growth in match traffic that a direct air-link was even established between Cork and Newcastle.

In recognition of Cork's effective adoption of Sunderland, Keane brought his side to Leeside to play a pre-season friendly last year.

Incredibly, Roy Keane's impact with Sunderland was such that Cork City Council were even urged to launch formal twinning arrangements with the English city.

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