Echoes of Henry in Robbie's theatrical fall from grace
I F ever there was a time when the moral outrage of the nation over Thierry Henry's handball in the Stade de France last November didn't feel embarrassing or excessive, then all doubt surely evaporated when Robbie Keane dived in the penalty area during the 73rd minute on Friday evening and duped the referee Kevin Blom into awarding Ireland a penalty that gave them a fighting chance of salvaging something from the game.
It was the second time in the match Keane had tried his luck in the area. He had fallen theatrically in the 18th minute, but had seen his protestations waved away by Blom who ought to have administered a yellow card. On the second occasion, however, Keane went down under a non-existent challenge from Yuri Zhirkov and this time Blom pointed to the spot. The Russians didn't protest but, 3-0 ahead at the time, they probably weren't too perturbed.
The context of Paris is everything. After the whistle that night, Keane was one of those who led the chorus of disapproval against Henry, going so far as to allege a FIFA plot against Ireland. "They are probably clapping hands, Platini sitting up there on the phone to Sepp Blatter," he said. "They were probably texting each other, delighted with the result. France and Germany had a chance of being in the play-offs together, two massive countries. There was no way in a million years that it was going to be a fair draw -- and it wasn't."
Yet it is difficult to square Keane's behaviour on Friday with the moral revulsion heaped on Henry after that play-off game. For certain there is a difference in scale. Henry's handball was a significant determining factor in Ireland's failure to qualify for the World Cup finals, whereas Keane's blatant dive was ultimately of little value to Ireland who still ended on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline.
In one sense, however, all that is immaterial. The penalty, which Keane converted, unquestionably gave Ireland impetus in a game that had looked beyond them and might have led to a wholly undeserved point that, ultimately, could have been the difference between qualification and another near-miss. And does it not lend further credence to the notion that had Keane, or any Irish player, been in Henry's position in Paris, then they too would have taken advantage of the situation in the same way?
On Friday, we waited in vain for some serious analysis of Zhirkov's supposed contact with Keane, but none was forthcoming. Granted, Ireland's inept display begged a series of questions but Keane's performance deserved more prominence. Yet the RTE panel skirted over the incident, Eamon Dunphy suggesting that the Russian "may have clipped his heels", while Matt Holland on Sky had a wry smile on his face when doubting Zhirkov had. "I'm not sure there was a lot of contact," he said.
As Ireland captain, we expect Keane to be a leader and to lead in a manner that is fair and sets an example for kids who dream of following him. The supporters have always adored him for the pride and commitment he has brought to playing for Ireland. Yet if we laud him for his good qualities, then it is only fair that we point out his shortcomings and, sadly, the worst of them were on view on Friday.