Saturday 21 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Robbie's legacy will live on no matter what happens next'

 

Chin up: Robbie Keane salutes the Irish supporters after Ireland's defeat to Belgium during Euro 2016. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Chin up: Robbie Keane salutes the Irish supporters after Ireland's defeat to Belgium during Euro 2016. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

He has been making headlines for more than half of his life.

And the next chapter of his professional journey is starting with his appointment to Mick McCarthy's coaching staff.

But there's a certain sadness about the finality in Robbie Keane announcing he will be hanging up his boots.

McCarthy affectionately described him as a 'cheeky b****x' earlier this week for putting himself forward for the ticket.

At 38, the Tallaght man still retains a certain bubbly enthusiasm that doesn't exactly sit comfortably with the language of retirement.

His social media followers will have noted that Keane was, until very recently, posting videos of individual training drills.

The message was that he was keeping sharp, perhaps with a view to one more gig following on from his short-lived stay in India.

That would have surprised nobody. Keane's wanderlust took him to America and, while the lifestyle appealed, he brought a professional attitude to the MLS that put other higher profile exports to shame.

Experiment

He never lost the desire for winning and scoring goals, even if the quality of opponent was a step down. His final stint at ATK in India was a novel experiment too and while he was well paid for those endeavours - and always conscious of his worth - it was still an experiment that others would shy away from.

If it was all about cash, Keane could have retired comfortably already. That desire for the game lingered.

Even the most confident players can struggle with life after but Keane has had time to adjust to that before slipping into this new gig with Ireland that will keep him involved with a view to his longer term ambition.

Make no mistake about it, that ambition involves managing his country; it's just a matter of how quickly that he believes he is ready to assume that responsibility. He won't be shy about letting the FAI authorities know that either.

Either way, his name is sure to figure in discussions around the Irish national team well into the future.

His record of 68 international goals is unlikely to be topped given how hard it is for teenagers to arrive on the scene and start scoring with frequency at such a young age - Keane hit the ground running in 1998 and never looked back.

Martin O'Neill spent a good portion of his final campaign bemoaning the fact that he didn't have a 27-year-old Robbie Keane. Indeed, he was making the same point when he did have a 34-year-old Keane.

Despite his outstanding record, there were spells of Keane's career where doubts were expressed about his influence. It's inevitable that someone whose been around the scene for so long will be taken for granted.

And Keane's confidence - and the selfishness that all top forwards possess - did wind people up the wrong way on occasion.

That belief was apparent from his early days in the Irish dressing room. It took senior players aback.

"Robbie's confidence was amazing," said Kenny Cunningham last night. "Damien Duff didn't have that. He was a bit insular. Robbie was different, the way he carried himself, that bit of a strut with the shoulders out. Amazing really."

Players warmed to him because he backed it up with goals. Lots of goals.

Even when he faced setbacks in his club career, from the inglorious Inter Milan experiment to a doomed period with Liverpool where he got caught up in a bit of political football, he would eventually bounce back.

Ireland were so reliant on Keane that a run of a few games without a goal would attract comment.

His low moments were analysed in depth. Towards the end of Brian Kerr's stay, his form suffered.

He was also front and centre as the new captain during the Steve Staunton era, which wasn't a great place to be.

Regardless of what was going on behind the scenes, Keane was loyal to managers and teammates in front of the camera and had to adopt a defensive posture during those tricky patches.

But managers raved about his influence away from the uncomfortable glare with Martin Jol a particular admirer of what he brought out of his Spurs teammates.

Indeed, in his latter days with Ireland, he coped well with the unusual feeling of being dropped, when there was a slight fear that he might take it badly. He was planning ahead at this stage.

Stephen Kelly played alongside Keane for club and country and recalled his own method of leadership.

"It was less screaming and shouting and more putting the ball in the back of the net at important times," said the ex-Spurs defender.

"He had always spoken about it being the road he wanted to go down and it's a great opportunity for him to come straight out of playing and go into the Ireland role.

"I think he might also be involved with the under 21 side and different things and that can only be a good thing. His experience and all of the managers that he has worked with can only benefit us."

Kelly smiled as he went through some of his favourite goals, remembering a wonder strike against Blackburn where he left defenders in a spin before finishing with his left foot.

Sky Sports viewers occasionally catch an episode of 'The 100 Club' , which details the elite group of players to hit a century of goals in the Premier League. Keane crossed that threshold before he had turned 28.

Recent Irish squads have included front men who have yet to score either at top flight or international level.

"I think it speaks for itself," said Kelly. "The goals, the career he's had. What he has achieved in Irish football has been unbelievable and if any young player can aspire to getting anywhere close to that ... well we could do with him now for a few goals."

That's a familiar refrain by now. Kelly was speaking at the Street Football Legends event, a promotion that's part of the build-up to this Sunday's Euro 2020 draw.

The reality is that the absence of a heir apparent to Keane on the pitch is the main obstacle to Irish hopes of featuring in the tournament proper.

Irish Independent

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