Sunday 18 February 2018

Keane backed to top 150 caps

Robbie Keane celebrates after scoring his first goal last Sunday
Robbie Keane celebrates after scoring his first goal last Sunday

Damian Spellman

Alan Kelly has tipped Robbie Keane to go on to win 150 caps for the Republic of Ireland.

The 32-year-old striker will set a new national record when he leads his country out for Friday night's World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands, his 126th senior appearance.

Keane's potency is as impressive as his longevity with the LA Galaxy frontman having extended his goalscoring tally to 56 in Sunday's 4-0 friendly victory over Georgia, and goalkeeping coach Kelly has no doubts that there is more to come.

Asked if the Ireland captain could go on to reach 150 caps, he said: "Why not? Look at him, he's running around like a spring chicken. I wish I had his knees.

"You have to have that desire and enthusiasm. Everybody said about him travelling over all the way for the England game and getting away from the Galaxy just because he wants to play in the games.

"That's infectious, to me anyway, and hopefully it is to the rest of the lads."

Kelly is well placed to assess Keane's contribution since he made his senior international debut as a teenager in March 1998.

He was still a member of the squad at the time and admitted the Dubliner's precocious talent was obvious from the off as they went head-to-head on the training pitch.

Kelly said: "I think I was in the squad when he first came in, and subsequently I have seen him rise all the way through from where he started to the iconic status he has now.

"His awareness, his perception, the ability he has to find space - the ability to create time and space on a football pitch is what marks the great players out, and Robbie is undoubtedly up there.

"I remember having many duels - which I lost on regular occasions - in these games you see out there.

"You'd think you had closed every angle down and you'd think you'd stopped the goal, and 'boom', back of the net and he's wheeling away and smiling at you and saying 'Better luck next time'.

"In the training games, you still see his desire, his enthusiasm, his want to make his team tick and get a goal even in these games, and the great players do that.

"Whatever opportunity they have to express themselves as players, they do it whether it's on the training field or whether it's in a qualifier.

"Robbie Keane is the epitome of a fella who has applied himself day in, day out, week in, week out, year in, year out to still be here performing and getting the goals record and the caps record.

"No better man deserves it."

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni will hope to be able to rely on Keane's eye for a goal once again as the Faroes arrive in Dublin for a game Ireland simply must win if they are to stand any chance of emerging from Group C.

However, he has concerns at the other end of the pitch, where keeper David Forde has still been unable to train with the rest of the squad since picking up a calf problem in last Wednesday's 1-1 draw with England at Wembley.

Kelly remains confident the 33-year-old Millwall man will make it, although he is drilling under-studies Keiren Westwood and Darren Randolph just in case.

He said: "He's coming on. The doctor and the medical staff have done a fantastic job so far. He did a bit of work with me, he's been in the gym this morning and he's looking to train fully tomorrow, so it's so far, so good.

"Everything has gone to plan so far, every test that's been put in his way, he has overcome.

"It's like anything, you assess after you have done something, but if it carries on the way it has, yes, he will be okay.

"If David doesn't make it, that's a question. I will give my opinion to the manager and then he will make the decision.

"But what I have to do in my job is make sure all three are firing and then if they are asked to perform, they can do that job because if I don't, then I would be letting them down."

Defenders Richard Dunne and Marc Wilson both trained this morning, although the indications were that the former's hopes of starting on Friday may be receding.

Press Association

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