Wednesday 25 April 2018

Keane insists he is still ready to start despite O'Neill hints

Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane during squad training
Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane during squad training
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The shadows are darkening ominously on Robbie Keane's career but the Republic of Ireland captain rages against the dying of the light.

Inwardly, when somebody throws a football into his vicinity, he dances with the joie de vivre of the kid from Tallaght who grew up with an obsession for the game.

Outwardly, he's a hardened pro. He knows there's a reality that at 35 years of age, even 67 goals slotted into onion sacks around the globe over a period of 17 years is no guarantee of a starting place in Martin O'Neill's side.

Most likely, he will be among the subs. He may not even get a run off the bench depending on how the match is going.

If such is his fate, the pro and the patriot in Robbie Keane will make the right noises of encouragement, will do his best to accept the manager's decision, and knuckle down to doing all he can to propel the squad to qualification for France 2016.

Playing, however, is everything to Keane, even though the sands of time are running out.

In that context, it was hardly comforting for him to sit beside manager Martin O'Neill at yesterday's pre-match press conference and hear a number of references to him winding down as an Ireland striker.

O'Neill paid tribute to the LA Galaxy player's commitment, hailing Keane as the epitome of the traditional warrior spirit intrinsic in Irish footballers.


"He's made a journey across half the world to come and play in a game, in a match here, at his particular age," said O'Neill.

"He's not 26 or 27. He's in the latter stages of his career. He still wants to don the shirt, he still wants to do those things.

"He still wants to be part of a situation here where we can try and qualify for one competition which might be a swansong for him."

The Ireland boss was being sincere, and maybe we media were reading a little too much into what seemed an exercise in reducing expectations that Robbie will play.

It has been a week of tumultuous emotions for Keane after the birth of a son - his and Claudine's second child - on Monday, and a 6,000 mile trip home from Los Angeles after playing and scoring for the Galaxy in Seattle on Sunday.

"As you can imagine it's been fairly hectic, playing in Seattle on Sunday, and then left there early Monday morning," said Keane.

"My wife had a baby at 7.0 on Monday evening. I left the hospital (in LA) at 9.0, so you can imagine how that went down well. But she understands.

"It's been a hectic few days but it's obviously been very joyful to have a new baby in out family.

"I'm now with the Irish team, I'm fully focused on being here."

Cue a quip from the manager about Keane stopping short "of the breastfeeding" - a jest that arose following Roy Keane's assertion that the baby being born would not affect Robbie because he wouldn't be breastfeeding.


Robbie's riposte was razor sharp: "He's (Roy) used to it because he's got bigger t*ts than me!"

For all the laughter, you'd have to feel Robbie would be exhausted, but he showed no signs of that in the few minutes we saw of training and at the media conference.

He will make it as difficult as possible for O'Neill to leave him out of his plans. "I'm always ready to go. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't," said Keane.

Perhaps when he does finish, Keane will reflect on all he has achieved, but this week, the past, be it his glory goal in the 2002 World Cup against Germany, or the Germans' 6-1 hammering of the Irish in 2012, is immaterial.

Referring to that drubbing Keane commented: "We have a squad of players here now that are quite capable of getting something against the Germans.

"They're still a fantastic team but they certainly have a few flaws.

"It's going to be a difficult game but the players are certainly not thinking about what happened against Germany the last time."

There was a poignant moment when a German journalist spoke about 'Der Bomber', Gerd Muller, who has Alzheimer's Disease.

Muller scored 68 international goals for West Germany, and if Keane scores this weekend he will join Muller in joint fourth on the All-time scorers list for Europe.

"It's obviously very sad. He was an absolutely fantastic player. All I can do is wish him well," said Keane.

Irish Independent

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