Thursday 22 March 2018

'I could sense the crowd and the team were desperate for me to score'

Robbie Keane scores his final international goal during last night’s friendly against Oman. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Robbie Keane scores his final international goal during last night’s friendly against Oman. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

David Kelly and Liam Kelly

Robbie Keane has taken off his jersey for the last time; he hasn't had time to let the feeling sink in that he will never get to wear it again.

"It's still in there," he smiles. "All the lads are putting their autographs on it."

An emotional week, literally signed off with a final flourish.

A fitting goal to sum up a career spent banging them in; his concluding finish, his 68th in green, guaranteeing that he scored in every year since his debut in 1998.

"I was delighted to score," he says. "I could sense in the crowd they were desperate for me to score, you could sense it within the team too and amongst the staff.

"If you play this game as long as I do, you know another opportunity is going to come along at another stage.

"I saw the defender coming in and I knew it would be difficult for him to stop running so I had to flick it over him."

Manager Martin O'Neill hailed his departing captain.

"It's fantastic for him, he is level with Gerd Muller in the goal-scoring stakes now and nobody will beat that record in my lifetime," said the manager. "He took his goal brilliantly, he scored them so often. He will score many more for his club. But now it is the time for him to go."

Keane agreed, adding: "I've no regrets. It's the right time for me to retire. Will I miss it? When you play for 18 years for your country, of course you're going to miss it.

"It's been a huge part of my life and my family for the last 18 years but it's hard for it to sink in now. It will be a few days I'd say before that happens.

"Nothing beats the feeling of putting on that Irish jersey and I told the lads in there that it's something you should never under-estimate. It's the best feeling in the world.

"It's been an emotional week for me since I announced I was retiring but it has all been incredible. The amount of messages of support from people from all over the world has just bowled me over.

"But then when all of that was over, all I ever wanted to do was to play the game. To get the goal topped off an absolutely wonderful evening.

"This one will always stand out, the whole game, to put that jersey on for one last time. It was always going to be emotional and I am never going to forget it.

"I owe so much to all the fans who came out this evening, it has been wonderful journey with them.

"But I think this team can achieve even more in years to come. We can qualify for the next tournament, I told them that. The team spirit is good and we need to be qualifying for major tournaments more regularly than when I was there.

"It's been an absolute privilege, an honour and a pleasure."

A feeling mutual amongst the loyal hordes in green and his team-mates who, in turn, had Keane sign their jerseys.

"The finish and the assists were excellent and to match the record in itself was great for Robbie," said man-of-the-match Jon Walters, who was delighted to get up to speed ahead of Monday's qualifier against Serbia.

"It was about getting the tempo right today. It was one of those games where it is a bit of a testimonial, just a slow pace.

"We made sure we went right at it because we want to play through to the World Cup campaign. We went for it and got the result in the end."

From Keane (36) to newcomer Callum O'Dowda, aged 21, who came on as a sub to win his second cap.

"Yeah, I loved it. It was a massive occasion and you could say at times it did feel like a testimonial for Robbie, but it was a special night for everybody, especially him," said O'Dowda.

"It was nice to be part of it. You could see a few people getting emotional as well."

The Bristol City player had a brief encounter with Keane earlier.

"I actually spoke to him (Keane) in the lift today. We were both caught up in the lift and he was like 'how old are you again?'

"I told him 21 and he goes 'aww, what I'd do to be your age again'."

Robbie timeline

7.34pm - Team captain Robbie Keane makes a solo entrance behind the rest of the players. Baby son Hudson is in his arms, and Robert junior is alongside him. They are clad in Irish shirts with 'Daddy' on the back. Wife Claudine stands on the sideline, leaving centre stage to her husband and sons.

7.36 - President Higgins and FAI president Tony Fitzgerald congratulate Robbie who receives a number of awards.

7.42 - The stadium echoes to the chant of 'Keano, Keano' - the first of many.

7.46 - After a minute's applause to honour five departed members of the soccer family, including Liam Tuohy and Finbarr Flood, Robbie literally gets the ball rolling to start the game.

7.51 - Robbie's first touch since kick-off - he chests the ball down to Glenn Whelan in the centre circle.

7.52 - He's flattened by an Omani defender, but the free goes against him. He looks as if he's taken a knock.

7.54 - Robbie Brady free-kick - Goal! 1-0 to Ireland.

8.0 - Quinn to Long. From his cross, Walters tries to set up Robbie whose shot on the turn is blocked.

8.01 - Walters shot rebounds off post, Robbie's follow-up attempt is denied by the goalkeeper diving at his feet.

8.13 - Walters gets a knock-down header to Robbie who is edged off the ball by a defender.

8.14 - Huge roar as Robbie is put through. He lobs the 'keeper, but the ball goes over the crossbar.

8.16 - ROBBIE SCORES! He lifts the ball over a defender and volleys it in. Goal number 68. Then comes the trademark somersault. Take that, Gerd Muller! 2-0.

8.20 - Walters scores with a header from a Brady cross. 3-0.

8.30 - Walters dummies a cross by Quinn, Robbie in turn tries to set up Walters, but his effort is blocked for a corner which is cleared.

8.32 - Referee Masias of Cyprus blows for half-time. Ireland 3 Oman 0

8.46 - Robbie leads the team out for the second half.

8.49 - Second half starts.

8.56 - Robbie tries a quick turn with the ball on the edge of the Omani penalty area but it doesn't work as he planned.

9.0 - Here is the news: it's the end of a fabulous career. Robbie leaves the pitch in an Ireland jersey for the last time. Everyone in the stadium rises to hail a genuine legend of Irish football. They chant 'Keano, Keano'. They applaud. Even the referee comes over to shake his hand. There's a hug for Stephen Quinn.

Robbie walks off slowly, arms raised, acknowledging the heartfelt appreciation of the crowd.

Robbie Keane - we salute you. Thanks for the goals, thanks for the memories.

Irish Independent

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