Captain Keane ready to go through pain barrier for crucial clash
'This little strain is not going to stop me'
As the thunderstorms cascaded upon the spanking new Philip II Arena in sultry Skopje, Robbie Keane delivered a sunshine smile when he declared his intention to breach the pain barrier against Macedonia this evening.
Whether it is his long-standing ankle problem or the groin strain that erupted on Wednesday, Keane remained unbowed as he vowed to take pain-killers if necessary, just as he did against Bulgaria in Sofia two years ago.
"I haven't been fit since I was 17," he smiles grimly, a reminder of the frailties now occurring towards the latter part of his career and a season spent idling in isolation at Spurs or battling injury and poor form at West Ham.
The green jersey brings out the warrior in Ireland's captain, though. Later, he jogs gingerly around two laps of the redeveloped stadium, making its international debut propitiously for the new government on election weekend.
Later, he does some close-in ball work with venerable back-room staff member Mick Lawlor testing his troublesome groin with some knee-high traps and volleys. Every one of the 850 Irish supporters billeted in the bars and cafes of this city will flock to Mother Teresa's birthplace nearby to pray that it will be alright on the night.
"It was Thursday," says Keane as he clarified the nature of his injury. "I did a bit of shooting after training and I felt my groin a small bit. I trained yesterday and it was gradually getting worse.
"I've had treatment since it happened, and last night, and this morning. It feels a lot better.
"I think I'll be okay. I've had these injuries the last few months also and I've carried on through that. A little groin strain is not going to stop me."
And, when asked would he undergo whatever artificial methods necessary to prevent him missing his first away game in six years since Ireland played the Faroe Islands, Keane was strident.
"If required," he insisted. "As I said, I'll just see how training is. It's not an injury that is going to put me out for months and months. It's muscular. I'll see how it is today. Rest assured, though, I'll be on that pitch tomorrow.
"I get little niggles here and there. In a couple of days, I'm usually okay. The treatment I've had here is good.
"When I get injured -- even long term -- I focus straight away about getting back straight away."
With his manager bizarrely reeling from the news that one of the main threats to his selected choice at right-back will not, in fact, appear because of injury, his captain's confidence should seep through a team that has suffered fractures in ever line from defence to attack.
Keane is the only survivor from the last time Ireland pitched up here in 1999, when that particular European Championships qualifying campaign crumbled so spectacularly. Yesterday was not the time for a history lesson.
"We've only been looking at the last game in an attempt to see how we can beat them this time," he added. "We'll concentrate on that and nothing else. Whatever else is in the past. We know what they are about.
"By no means will it be easy. We're going into this game with a little bit of confidence. And we're coming back in off the back of good wins which should stand us in good stead.
"I can't really remember too much of the game in '99. I don't remember the place. It's a long, long time ago.
"It's a completely different time now, a completely different team. I only focus on the moment."
And it could be a defining moment should Keane breach Bobby Charlton's international scoring record for these islands. Not that he will be planning one of his over-wrought celebrations, a particularly wise choice given his injury concerns.
"I've no plans to do anything," he says.
"It would mean a hell of a lot. But I'm not going into the game focusing on scoring 50 goals.
"If it's a case that I score, or Simon Cox, or Shane Long, then so be it. As long as we win, I don't care.
"As a striker, it's always important to score goals. It gives you confidence and the two goals against Northern Ireland helped. That's the same for any striker when you score. It's about the extra 20pc. Those two games have certainly helped me."
And, just as his manager bristled when it was suggested that the team's style may better dovetail with a competitive away record which will be defended this evening, the captain hinted strongly that Ireland will play ball this evening.
"If you look at myself and Cox, we're not the biggest of players," he explained.
"We'll probably have to get it into feet rather than chipping the balls into us.
"We'll have to get the ball down and play, and get it behind them."
And, hopefully, fighting fit.