Sunday 11 December 2016

Martin O'Neill: Robbie Keane could still have leadership role at Euros if not fit to play

Published 28/03/2016 | 15:13

Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill has admitted he could take Republic of Ireland skipper Robbie Keane to the Euro 2016 finals even if he does not make it into the squad.

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The 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has returned to his club after failing to shake off a niggling knee injury and will play no part in Tuesday night's friendly against Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium having missed Friday night's 1-0 victory over Switzerland.

Keane, Ireland's record goalscorer with 67 in 143 appearances for his country, will do everything within his power to make the 23 for what seems certain to be his final major tournament as a player, but manager O'Neill may consider including him in the party anyway.

The 64-year-old said: "I haven't thought about that, I must admit, but I think Robbie would be thinking he would want to try to make the 23 first and foremost, and then we will see how things develop after that.

"But he has been very influential in the group, he's been very supportive the whole time he has been here and even when he hasn't started in matches, he's still with the team, so, yes, that is a thought, I must admit."

Keane, who is currently studying for his coaching badges, has revealed previously that he would love one day to be a part of the Ireland coaching set-up.

However, he has been equally adamant that he will not hang up his boots until he is convinced he has nothing left to offer and although his legs may not now move quite as quickly as they did at the start of his 18-year senior international career, he still knows where the net is.

His current injury is a concern with the finals less than three months away, although O'Neill is convinced there is no lasting damage.

He said: "He [Keane] thought it might have been a little bit of a knock and of course when that's got going away immediately, then you start getting a bit of a concern.

"He feels as if, at worst, he might just get it 'scoped and have a little look around to see what it is, and in this day and age, that doesn't take too long. He'll let us know what happening in the next couple of days, but no, I don't think he is overly concerned."

While injury is currently hampering Keane, it could also have opened the door for fellow stalwart Shay Given, who will hope England counterpart Jack Butland's misfortune might open the door for him to get back into the Stoke side after recovering from his own knee problem and in turn, stake a claim for a place in the squad.

Given, who celebrates his 40th birthday next month, is back in training, although O'Neill plans to speak to him to get an update on his fitness.

He said: "Jon Walters was just filling us in and saying he felt he was just getting back to really full training now, so if this is a spur to him now to feel as if he has got a chance, well done. But I will get an opportunity now to speak to him in next 24 hours."

The Slovakia game will give Ireland a chance to test themselves against a second fellow qualifier inside five days before they bring their preparations to a close against Holland on May 27 and possibly a second game four days later with the Football Association of Ireland understood to be in negotiations with Belarus.

O'Neill, who will have to be inventive in his team selection with Shane Long his only fit striker, could prove a useful source of information for Wales and England bosses Chris Coleman and Roy Hodgson, who both face the Slovakians at the finals, and Coleman has already issued a dinner invitation to his Irish colleague.

The Republic manager said: "In terms of giving him the low-down on anyone, I don't think he would be relying on me for that. He would have enough information round by his side not to worry about that. But yes, going out, it's seriously not a problem, it would be nice."

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