Thursday 19 September 2019

'Few players had his will to succeed' - Three key men in Robbie Keane's career explain what made him great


Robbie Keane. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Robbie Keane. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Colin Young

As Robbie Keane brings down the curtain on his playing days, Colin Young talks to three men who all had significant roles in the striker's career


Keane's strike partner for Republic of Ireland 1998-2002

It sounds easy to say it now but it was clear from his first training sessions that Robbie was going to be special. Sometimes you see young lads and they are confident but they can't walk the walk. Robbie could talk the talk and walk the walk. This kid was nutmegging seasoned internationals, leaving them on the ground and patting them on the head as he was running by them.

He was funny and full of life and quickly became such an integral part of the Ireland set-up. Before you knew it, this cheeky little character was the fella who was wearing our centre-forward's jersey.

He was everything to everyone, and always in the middle of things, always having fun in the camp, whether it was singing or joking at the expense of the kit man or the physio or one of the other players, but no one ever fell out with him. It is an amazing gift to be able to create so much fun, belittle people and take the mickey out of them and yet they still like you.

And every time he played, he was putting the ball in the back of the net. He scored two goals against Malta in his fifth game and I was asked in an interview afterwards if I was pleased for Robbie. I said, not only was I pleased for him but that it was only a matter of time before he broke the Ireland goalscoring record. At the time it was 20 but I'd said then Robbie could score 30, 40 or even 50 and I got absolutely ridiculed for it.

Robbie Keane also came at the right time in my career. I was coming back from my second cruciate, suffered in the first season at Sunderland. I had missed most of the '96/'97 season and in the following summer, Peter Reid signed Kevin Phillips; Robbie Keane made his international debut in '98. Week in, week out, I had Kevin Phillips at Sunderland and Robbie every month or so for Ireland. How privileged was I? A Golden Boot winner and Ireland's greatest ever goalscorer, and me, a bloke in his 30s, hobbling round and enjoying a lovely Indian summer thanks to those two.


Ireland assistant manager to Mick McCarthy 1997-2002

The first time I came across Robbie, I was picking my first under 21 team for Ireland, I think it was against Russia, and I was going through the names with Mick. Shay would play, Ian Harte, Kev Kilbane. We came to Robbie. "You can't have him," Mick said. And that was that. From a very early stage, Mick had identified that he was good enough to be with the senior squad. Damien Duff was the same.

Mick decided Robbie and Duffer were a threat and played them together and if we needed him Niall Quinn was a foil for the pair of them which just seemed to happen naturally. The whole thing fell into place.

People who take part in training everyday can see other things in players like him that the public don't get see which necessitates their place in the team. We saw enough in training to play him and then you hope that he can replicate it on the big stage, which he did. And to score the amount of goals he did for club and country was phenomenal, especially with the Irish team. He would score against the big nations as well as the lesser teams. He scored big goals but the main thing was that he turned up and he wanted to play. He loved playing, as 99 per cent players do. He just loves playing football and he wanted to turn up and play for Ireland, even if he was not scoring goals.

He was always chirpy, always at the front, seeing what is going on or being at the heart of it. You would never expect to see Robbie hiding at the back.

Funnily enough, I came across him recently when we went over to Malahide to play golf for my eldest lad's 40th and ended up in Gibney's. Guess who is in there, minding his own business, but Robbie. I hadn't seen him for yonks and we soon got talking about football and the good old days with Ireland.

He was just back from India where he said he had briefly been given a go at management and that he had a real taste for it. I said, 'Fair enough, but as long as you have the right people around you and good people to give you a hand.'

It was interesting hearing him talking as a manager, not the player. I have come across a few of the lads, like Robbie, who have gone into coaching and it is great to see. And I told them they are going to see life from the other side of the fence and maybe they will appreciate all the problems they gave me and how we handled them. They were a great set of lads, but I hope their players are giving them the same problems.


Secretary of Crumlin United 1991 (when Keane joined) to present day

Robbie's parents were originally from Crumlin and after moving to Tallaght, they brought him back to the club at 11 when he'd turned the age to play. Jimmy Loughran was the coach and Larry Fox was the manager of his teams from 11 to 16.

He just scored goals for fun but the thing that stood out to me was his mentality and mindset. He was just one of those kids who desperately wanted to be a footballer, that was all he was ever going to do and nothing was going to stop him. We have all seen a lot of kids with the ability but not many have the nous and determination to succeed. He had that willpower and he was also very good in front of goal, always scored and was determined to achieve. He was in a really good side with players like Stephen McPhail, Jason Gavin and Richard Dunne.

Robbie was the one who really stood out as the striker, full of tricks, always doing something different on the ball, never predictable. When he had it you would never quite know what he was going to do with the ball, only that it would probably end in the back of the net.

I remember the under 14 Kennedy Cup and he didn't make the squad because he was too small but it didn't faze him, he just kept going, kept going.

When he got his break with the international under 16 side, he wasn't picked in the original starting XI but in the last training session, the lad who was selected got injured. So Robbie got in, made his debut, scored two and never looked back.

He left us at 16 and he could've gone to Leeds while Liverpool were also sniffing around but he went to Wolves because he knew he would have a better chance of playing there than anywhere else and, sure enough, within two years he was in the first team.

That was 22 years ago but he has never forgotten us and Crumlin United is always up there when he talks about his career. This week, when he made his announcement, our club was named alongside world-renowned clubs like Liverpool, Tottenham, Leeds, Inter Milan, LA Galaxy.

We have progressed too, with great facilities, really good teams and he has been a fantastic ambassador. Last year we started the Under 12 Robbie Keane Academy Cup and his name helped attract teams like Juventus, Everton, Leeds, Cardiff and Burnley and we will be running it again this year. When you mention Robbie Keane's name, teams, and sponsors, want to get involved.

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