Thursday 8 December 2016

The greatest fans in the world were, perhaps, still basking in the reflected glory of a summer spent harassing elderly nuns and small children on trains

Ireland's greatest goalscorer matches Muller tally on unforgettable Aviva night

Published 01/09/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Keane with his two sons Robert and Hudson. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Robbie Keane with his two sons Robert and Hudson. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

A river of testimonials flowed through this slowly darkening corner of Dublin 4.

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And, even when it felt as if the flowing tributaries threatened to drown the entire audience, there was more.

With Robbie Keane, there is always more. Accompanied by his sons, Robert and Hudson, this is a moment of private reflection after an evening of such public acclamation.

From boyhood to manhood and back again, all encapsulated in one emotional embrace.

Robbie Keane celebrates scoring his sides second goal of the match. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Robbie Keane celebrates scoring his sides second goal of the match. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

It had been a night to remember but a match to forget. And deeply disappointing that not many more of his compatriots had left their sofas in order to see it.

We live in an age of digital, distant engagement and more than half of the possible capacity decided that their obsequies were best delivered via remote control.

Robbie Keane signs a jersey for his teammates. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Robbie Keane signs a jersey for his teammates. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

It was not a great night for touts in the business of selling ducats. The greatest fans in the world were, perhaps, still basking in the reflected glory of a summer spent harassing elderly nuns and small children on trains.

Or, perhaps, attending to some nearby distress caused by a puncture.

Then again, you'd have to ask, Oman? Really? Their supporters may be a lovely race of people but they are not the best of away travellers.

Already, they have partaken of Cork and Limerick; doughty draws against the pair's reserve sides; next, they high-tail it to India.

Truly, they rival the Harlem Globetrotters in the soccer annals of ubiquity. If Oman were getting paid for this gig, perhaps Shane Ross and the rest of them might add the bill to that Apple moolah.

Few get to depart the sporting stage of their own free will and choosing; fewer still are deserving of such an accolade.

Video highlights boomed out from the two big screens at either end of the stadium; that it wasn't possible to include all of Keane's international goals another reminder of his gargantuan status.

The highest tiers of the Aviva are tickled with the dimming sunlight of August's final azure sky; a giddy anticipation courses through the spectators.

A series of talking heads delivered their own personal eulogies; from Pádraig Harrington to Bernard Dunne; Brian O'Driscoll to Alan Brogan.

Mary Black had a few words; soccer devotee Michael D Higgins, hardly flustered when his presidential salute had segued into Coldplay's 'Viva la Vida' as he greeted Keane on the red carpet, emoted more than a cúpla focal.

Bono was invited to speak glowingly about Robbie Keane, too, but ended up speaking glowingly about himself.

One half expected to see Pele tumble into view. And then Pele tumbled into view.

This was a testimonial in all but name; Oman the willing patsies - who exactly in the FAI oversees the recurrence of this senseless fixture?

A goal would, of course, draw Robbie Keane level with the great Gerd Muller; or, rather, ensure that Gerd Muller was brought back to an equal pegging with the great Robbie Keane.

His team-mates were more than accommodating in attempting to aid this final flourish, clearly ignoring their manager's dry pre-match threats to retire anyone found guilty of selflessness.

It was, of course, a fruitless warning, given the absence of even the merest hint of competitiveness in this fixture.

Robbie Brady's stunning free-kick was an appropriate adornment to kick-start the riot of emotion; he is now Ireland's most recently prolific goal-scorer, this being the third successive game in which he has done so.

Two of those were at Euro 2016 yet he remains a Championship player; as the transfer window slammed shut last night, the sport's version of double-glazing salesmen remained mysteriously ignorant of Brady's claims.

Keane, incidentally, was the last Irishman to score in three successive games for his country. That's five years ago; nobody can ever assume his mantle.

Walters, who had gently defied his manager by claiming he would try to tee up his strike partner, did exactly that; so did Arter; Keane couldn't shift his feet.

The script did not go to plan, initially, at least. Then, with 20 minutes and 14 seconds gone, the magic moment.

Fittingly, when the goal arrived, it may as well have been sent by courier from the barely-lit streets of the Glenshane estate in West Dublin

Brady and Walters combine with a flurry of flicks, rendering the Omanis as redundant as traffic cones before Keane supplies the assassin's blow before delivering the celebratory bow.

A small pocket of his Crumlin United are housed in a side corner of the Havelock Square End in seeming splendid isolation.

After delivering his iconic acrobatics for the 68th and final time, Keane salutes them all; he salutes his family, he salutes what passes for the crowd.

And, finally, he salutes the emerging sprinkling of stars in the darkening night sky. Dearest Da. A final one for you.

Nights like this have defined Keane all his adult life; so strange to think that tonight represents the end of it all.

The final team-talk. The final anthem. The final kick-off. The final half-time. The final throw-in. The final corner. And, of course, the final goal.

The last waltz. The long goodbye.

Irish Independent

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