Returning Keane vows to shoulder burden of finding net for Ireland
WHEN he lines out against Costa Rica tonight, Robbie Keane will be ending a lengthy international absence by his standards. It's a break that has emphasised his importance.
The Ireland captain and record goalscorer has made just one appearance under the new managerial regime and it culminated in their only success against Latvia.
While the Baltic nation provided modest opposition that O'Neill's side would likely have beaten anyway, it was still significant that Keane registered the opener, his 62nd international strike, because in the four subsequent matches profligacy in the final third has become a recurring theme. Indeed, the Derryman believes that Ireland would have won the last three with better finishing.
Keane has arrived from Los Angeles in good shape, after missing the other 2014 fixtures due to his club commitments and a sensible agreement with his boss Bruce Arena. The Tallaght man underwent surgery over the winter to fix two niggling issues that were making life difficult.
"I had two Achilles operations done at the same time and it just gave me enough time to get back for pre-season. I haven't missed a game since, touch wood," he enthused.
"I wish I had it done a couple of years ago. It's a huge difference, not just playing, but just in general, just walking about and stuff. And waking up in the morning, taking me five seconds to go to the toilet instead of 20 minutes," he adds, with a smile, clarifying that he was referring to the length of the journey.
He is asked if it could extend his career. "Well, I think before I got them done, I was okay anyway," he replies. "I mean, if I can continue to keep my form up for the national team and for LA Galaxy then great. But, certainly, this is the best I've felt in a long, long time."
Shane Long's struggles in the previous three outings, even though he did score against Serbia before missing better chances, have brought Keane's name right back into everyone's mind. Yet the burden to deliver in the goalscoring department is nothing new.
"It's the same pressure I've had since I was 17," he stressed, "That will never change. And I will put pressure on myself more than you lads do. My job is to score goals. It doesn't matter if I score goals, or Long or Wes or whoever it is. Certainly, if we can score goals... we've got players in the squad who are quite capable of scoring.
"Of course I want to be involved in every game. That hasn't been the case, but I'm not going to worry too much about it. It's an opportunity, as the gaffer said, to give other people the opportunity.
"We have a good squad of players and it's only right that people get an opportunity to see what they can do. Of course you miss it, you certainly do. I was going to come in for the two games (tonight and Tuesday v Portugal) and I'm excited to be here."
From afar, he watched the developments with his namesake Roy play themselves out. He's naturally happy that the Corkman is here too. "Because I've been over here, I haven't seen too much," he stressed. "Obviously you hear bits and bobs. I heard the manager saying that it's done now, he's here, we'll move on. As a group, we're delighted that he's staying."
One aspect of Philadelphia that Keane is looking forward to this evening is the temperature, even though it will be warmer than your average game on Irish soil. He turned the air blue with a rant at MLS authorities over last week's game in Chicago being played in the middle of the afternoon in extreme temperatures.
"It's a lot better playing at 8.0 than 3.0 in the afternoon on the hottest day in Chicago," he said.
"Obviously, I wasn't too happy about it because if this league wants to progress and to move forward, they certainly have to listen to other people because one of our players actually felt dizzy and actually fainted. One of these days, something seriously bad is going to happen to someone."