Robbie puts Ireland before Galaxy

Aidan Fitzmaurice

EVEN a summons from his club in far-off LA could not keep Robbie Keane away from tonight's event at Lansdowne Road.

Ireland have, of course, qualified for a major finals on four previous occasions but this is the first time that qualification will be sealed, and celebrated, at home.

Keane's employers, LA Galaxy, feel that the Dubliner has already done enough in the line of national service with his two-goal haul in Friday's win in Estonia, and their manager Bruce Arena asked if Keane could duck out of the second leg of the play-off against Estonia and get back to his club early to prepare for Sunday's final in the MLS Cup against Houston Dynamo.

But Keane does not want to miss one second of this evening. A decade ago, Manchester United and Mick McCarthy came to an agreement that if Ireland got what was defined as a "positive result" from the first leg of a playoff against Iran, Keane could miss the away leg in Tehran, but that's not for the current captain.

"They requested that I come back to LA but the manager and myself said no, it's still only halfway. Imagine if we didn't qualify so the job is not done. We have to do it properly and professionally. This could be one of the greatest moments of my time playing for my country," said Keane, who says he found it hard to appreciate the enormity of qualification in 2001.

"I think this will be bigger. When you are young, 21 or 22, you take things for granted. That was the case for myself and Duffer and Richie (Dunne) and Shay (Given), so we will treasure this moment more than we did 10 years ago.

"We've had this group of players together for a few years now. The players like Kevin Doyle and Shane Long have grown. We're a proper team now."