Irish no-shows unacceptable, says angry Keane
The captain doesn't mince his words on the issue of AWOL colleagues, writes Seán Ryan
A VERY relaxed Robbie Keane took on the role of enforcer on Friday afternoon in Portmarnock when the subject of AWOL international footballers came up.
Where his manager Giovanni Trapattoni had pulled back and adopted a more mellow, diplomatic stance after initially berating certain absent players, the Ireland captain didn't hold back.
"It is unacceptable," he said. "Everyone cannot be injured. They all played on Sunday. Unless they got a bad tackle -- and I didn't see any of them get one -- then they should be okay. This is their country. To play for your country is a great honour. I still have the same enthusiasm as the day I got my first cap."
Keane also revealed that the the players who reported for international duty last week -- 16 of the 33 originally selected -- had a meeting on this issue.
"If anyone has a right not to play it is people like Shay Given who has 100-odd caps. If anyone should pick and choose, it is them and guys like 'Duffer'. Yet Damien has been busting a gut to try and get fit -- and it looks like he'll miss the game now. He's gutted about that.
"And then you have people who don't want to play. Well, if you don't want to play for Ireland, then don't declare for us. There are no excuses. I can't understand them."
Asked if he had tried to get in touch with the missing players, Keane responded: "It is not my job. My job as captain is to help the players who are here. I'm sure they are as angry as I am about this. The only message we can give them is by performing on the pitch. Those players have put the manager in a bad situation now. In future he has to decide between the players who have turned up this week ahead of those who just want to pick and choose their games. It doesn't work like that. You are playing for your country."
Keane pointed to players who, though injured, still came to Dublin. "Sean St Ledger and Darren O'Dea came over even though they were carrying injuries. Do we have to go over and collect these people and bring them over ourselves? It is not possible. It is not hard to turn up or let people know your situation. Glenn Whelan was struggling but he got an injection and will turn up this weekend."
The importance of the week, apart from the opportunity to win the Republic's first trophy in 25 years against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium this evening, was as preparation for the vital Euro 2012 game in Skopje on Saturday.
"The preparation for Macedonia started last week," said Keane. "We need everyone available. If we had been beaten by Northern Ireland on Tuesday, the players who turned up would get stick for the next five days. People would say that was a s**t performance. So people just turn up for the Macedonia game because it is a competitive one. No, it doesn't work like that.
"My brother is a taxi driver, he turns up for work. I don't want big headlines for that -- but these lads don't turn up for their country.
"It would be great to get a trophy, but that won't get us to the Euros. Our main aim is getting ready and prepared for the Macedonia game, that means doing this right and getting a good win, then if that helps us, great.
"When we played them last time we started really well, they got a goal back and we made it difficult for ourselves. It is going to be a tough game but we have a lot of confidence, it is flowing through the camp apart from all this crap that has been happening. On the pitch we have been doing well and that is the most important thing."
It's nearly 10 years since Keane and the Republic last qualified for a major finals, but he hasn't given up hope of returning to the world stage. His 31st birthday is in July, but Keane says there is no diminution of his hunger or his enthusiasm for the game.
"I'm quite happy at the moment. As long as I'm healthy and doing my job for Ireland, there's no big deal anywhere else. Outside of that is irrelevant, as long as I put that green jersey on and do well for Ireland, that's all that matters to people in Ireland. It doesn't matter to people here if I'm not playing and scoring in England. As long as I'm doing it here, that's all that matters.
"I love playing football, so hopefully I won't get too many injuries and will get some luck on the way. I think you can see that, when I score, I still have that same buzz and enthusiasm when I first came. That doesn't change.
"At the moment, I feel good, young and sharp, I just want to play as many games as possible."
Keane only needs one goal to equal the 49-goal record of Bobby Charlton, and he is conscious of that.
"It doesn't [play on my mind] until you get closer and closer to it, then a lot of people say it to me. It would be nice to beat it, the British and Irish record, it would be nice to have that record, on Sunday or the following Saturday.
"It is something that when I first started off I would never ever have dreamt of. My thing then was to score goals and get close to Niall Quinn's record.
"At the start, when you score a few goals you think maybe I've got a chance to catch Quinny, then I beat that, now it is to reach the Bobby Charlton one. For me it would be something I'd never have thought possible. If you had asked me years and years ago would I get 50 goals for the Irish team I would have probably laughed."
Sunday Indo Sport