'Pride in pulling on green jersey made me reject retirement'
ROBBIE Keane thought long and hard before he made up his mind to hang around for the Brazil 2014 campaign and, in the end, it was the prospect of never pulling on a green jersey again which made the difference.
"Of course I thought about it. When Damien (Duff) and Shay (Given) decided to retire it was a sad day for Irish football. Two of the best players that this country has ever seen," he said with feeling. "It was the thought of never putting on a green jersey again which was difficult to come around to. Even now I'm dreading that day. As long as I'm fit and healthy and as long as the manager picks me, I'll be available."
For the first time in many moons, Keane finds himself in an Ireland squad without Duff, Given or Richard Dunne to keep him company and that has been odd to say the least.
"It is strange that they are not around. I've been with them for so long. Me and Damien came in at the same time and Shay was a year before. When you're used to seeing those faces and you know you're never going to see them again," he said, his voice trailing to nothing.
"When Duffer was there he was always in bed asleep and I never really saw much of him anyway," he said with a wry smile. "But yes, it is very strange."
As always with Keane, he is not one to dwell and is anxious for everyone to put Euro 2012 to one side and lift themselves for the new task ahead.
"You all know me by now. I can't dwell on the Euros. This is a new campaign and everyone is excited. What happened in Poland is behind us and we need to look forward."
Keane has seen positive signs in training this week that Giovanni Trapattoni has a hungry and energetic squad on his hands for the qualification opener against Kazakhstan.
"This week in training, the young players, everyone seems to have that hunger," said Keane before taking time to mention James McCarthy as one who stood out.
"I'm very impressed with James McCarthy. I've watched him in the Premier League for Wigan.
"He's very good on the ball, very clever. He sees things very quickly, a second faster than most."
Keane has been paired with Jon Walters up front but expects an amount of switching between Walters and Simon Cox during the 90 minutes.
"Cox is not a natural winger so I expect he will tuck in. Walters is similar to Kevin and Shane so it won't impact too much on the way I play, maybe a bit deeper than usual and try to help the midfield out," he said.
Keane expects a tough time from Kazakhstan, a team with a decent defence and solid organisation.
"We watch a video on every team we play and look for their weaknesses and strengths. Their defence is very solid and, as a group, they are well-organised. We must focus on our strengths and what we do as a group and isolate their weaknesses."