Robbie calls on players to savour their special moment
ROBBIE Keane has told the Republic of Ireland players to savour the achievement of qualifying for Euro 2016 in France.
The Irish record goalscorer, of whom manager Martin O'Neill said: "I wish Robbie was 27 again", set aside any personal disappointment at not getting a run on Monday night to put qualification in context.
Keane was just 21 when Mick McCarthy's team reached the 2002 World Cup finals by defeating Iran in the play-offs in November, 2001.
At 35, he can't believe how quickly those memories are eclipsed by the imperative of the next game, the next challenge, for club and country.
"My first one, I can't really remember too much, it happened so quick. I'd say to just enjoy it, because it's a special moment in your career.
"Not many teams qualify for major tournaments. In Irish history it's, what, six times?
"It doesn't happen very often. You have ups and downs, and when you get a moment like this you have to enjoy it," he said.
Asked for his reaction to the 2-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina, Keane summed it up in one word: "Pride".
"I'm very, very proud to be Irish.
"Credit goes to the players who are here but also the players who aren't here but who contributed also, Shay (Given), Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn, people like that who have been here from the start.
"It's a shame they're not here to celebrate it because to move forward it's important that we have a togetherness, and we certainly have that now.
"The team spirit around the place is incredible, on and off the field," said Keane.
Will O'Neill find a place in his squad for the 143-times capped Keane who has scored a phenomenal 67 goals during his international career?
The LA Galaxy player does not lack belief in his ability to contribute at the top level, and wants to be part of the adventure in France next summer.
What he does know for certain is that this Irish group has forged a genuine spirit of 'all for one, one for all' through the trials, tribulations and the eventual success of this campaign.
"If you look at it from the start of the campaign to now, it's certainly got a lot better and better as its gone on, which is always important.
"We started well but then started to fade off, like we did with Galaxy at the end of the season after starting off great - we had a disastrous end to the season.
"So I think it's important towards the end to be strong mentally, and we've shown that in the last few games," he said.
Keane showed his mettle in the warm-up when he confronted one of the Bosnia & Herzegovina backroom team in the centre circle during the warm-up when both teams were on the pitch.
The clear message from Keane was "don't mess with us".
"They were kicking balls into the warm-up, but I'm not talking about that, we've just qualified for a major tournament.
"It was a great performance. I was always fairly comfortable that we were going to win the game after the first leg. I didn't think that they were going to cause us too many problems and once we got that first goal, it was fairly comfortable," he said.
Keane's delight and that of all the players and staff was palpable but it will not take long once the draw is made to readjust the sights and begin making plans for next June.
Nobody needs to remind the team's talisman that the high of reaching the 2012 European Championships was soon eroded by three defeats in the group stages.
Keane looks to the future, and not the past. He has no sense that Poland three years ago has left unfinished business for himself or the Irish team.
"No, that's gone. From the start of the campaign we said we'd continue to fight, and we felt we had a chance of qualifying automatically or through the play-offs. It was always going to be the play-offs, to be honest, but I am delighted and proud to be Irish," said Keane.
Robbie Brady, winner of the RTE 'Man of the Match' award, hailed manager Martin O'Neill for leading the team through the difficult qualifying series.
"It's a massive achievement.
"He's been excellent since he's come in, and it's great to repay him in this way, and to repay everyone who has put faith in us, especially the fans who have come to support us.
"It's a great honour to be able to do this for your family and friends and everyone who is watching," said Brady.