Tuesday 16 January 2018

Centurion Keane has his sights set on 'many more caps'

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

This evening, Robbie Keane will lead his 15-month-old son, Robbie Jnr, on to the pitch at the new Aviva Stadium and win the deserved acclaim that will accompany the occasion of his 100th cap.

It is a landmark that lends itself to reflection, with Keane forced to embrace nostalgic mood as he was pressed for his recollections on the eve of this historic date with Argentina.

From the highs of the World Cup in 2002, to the lows of Macedonia and France, the Tallaght man has undergone a colourful journey since his senior bow as a half-time substitute against the Czech Republic in Olomouc 12 years ago.

Yesterday, he spoke about people like Mick McCarthy and Niall Quinn, who were formative influences on that journey. And, of course, his late dad, also named Robbie, who didn't live to see the day that his son joined the elite 100 club.

"I'm sure he will be looking down and will be very proud of what I've achieved," said Keane, who is thrilled that his child will be mascot for the evening.

Team-mates have lined up to pay tribute to Ireland's record goalscorer this week, pointing out how he has grown into the captaincy during his four years with the armband.

Certainly, he has shone during the Giovanni Trapattoni era, acknowledging that he has matured and learned a little more about the game and his responsibilities.

"It's been a great experience for me," the 30-year old said. "And the older you get, the more knowledge you get. I still have that same buzz and enthusiasm for the game that I did when I came into the team first. I always want to play for my country.

"You know me by now. Over the years, I never pulled out of squads for reasons, unless there's been serious injuries. I love coming back to play, and that will never change."

The desire remains strong because there is a sense of unfinished business. He cites the Japan and South Korea experience as the highlight of his career in the green jersey to date, and there is a lingering regret that he should have played in more major tournaments.

Hence the desire to build on the promise of Trapattoni's first campaign and push on and book a place in the 2012 European Championships.

"I think we could have qualified for more," he said. "If you looked at the games we were involved in (play-offs), it's not like we got battered in them. We came really close. It was silly mistakes or just a bit of luck that we didn't get. I certainly feel that we should have been involved in more (finals) than we have."

It was home form which let Ireland down in the last campaign, with Trapattoni's men failing to secure victories against their main group rivals at Croke Park and then losing the first leg of the play-off to the French at GAA headquarters.

Keane believes that a lack of atmosphere, due to the sheer size of the venue, hampered Ireland and is looking forward to life back on Dublin's south side.

"I think it's clever to have the fans so close to the pitch," he said. "In years gone by, they've created a really good atmosphere there -- like the Holland match in 2001. It's a cliche but they are the 12th man. Hopefully, this stadium will be very similar in that respect."

The Dubliner doesn't remember much about his debut, with his first home game for his country -- appropriately against a visiting Argentine side -- the moment when he really felt like he'd arrived.

"Hopefully I can go on to win many more caps," he declared.

Given the dearth of striking cover coming through the ranks, it's hard to imagine life without him.

Irish Independent

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