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A leader, a legend, an icon: Robbie Keane’s impact on Irish football

Keane’s Ireland team-mates past and present pay tribute as the striker prepares to win his record 126th cap this evening.

Image: ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

“I’VE SEEN HIM rise all the way through from when he started to the iconic nature he has now,” Alan Kelly proudly recalls when asked to put his finger on what it is that makes Robbie Keane so special.

“His awareness, his perception, his ability to find space, his ability to create time and space is what marks the great footballers out and Robbie’s undoubtedly up there.”

It was the latter stages of Kelly’s playing days when Keane, aged 17, broke through and made his international debut against the Czech Republic in Olomouc. Tonight Ireland’s most prolific striker, aged 32, makes his 126th Irish appearance and so overtakes Shay Given as the country’s most-capped international.

“I have had many duels with Robbie in training games,” goalkeeping coach Kelly explains. “You think you’ve closed every angle down, you think you’ve got it stopped and BOOM, back of the net, he’s wheeling away and he’s smiling at you.

“You still see his desire and enthusiasm. He wants to make his team tick and get a goal as well, even in training. The great players do that — every opportunity they have to express themselves, they do it whether it’s on the training field or in a qualifier.

Robbie Keane is the epitome of a fella who has applied himself day in day out, week in week out, year in year out to still be here performing.

Keane and Damien Duff in training back in 1998… (© INPHO / Patrick Bolger)

“He’s always on the move in the box,” says winger Aiden McGeady, who was also a clubmate of Keane’s during their Celitc days. “He’s not the tallest but he always seems to get chances.

He’s scored goals every single season of his career. Every time there’s a game you expect him to score, and obviously his record at international level is incredible and you can’t begrudge him that.

“He’s going to be the record caps holder, the record goalscorer by a long way, and obviously he’s a fantastic player to have in the team and has been for a long time.”

Keane’s impact crosses generations too as one of the squad’s youngest members, 20-year-old midfielder Jeff Hendrick, pointed out this week. Hendrick was just 10 when Keane scored arguably the most important goal of his career: the last-gasp equaliser against Germany in the 2002 World Cup.

“I was in the pub. I wasn’t drinking though,” Hendrick laughs.

“I had my face painted watching him scoring goals. Now to be involved in the squad with him is great.”

… and after Duff’s final game for Ireland last summer (©INPHO/Donall Farmer)

“He’s a great guy, a great captain and a great footballer,” adds another member of the younger generation, winger James McClean.

He’s been a legend for Ireland over the years and it’s fitting that he gets the all-time record for appearances as well as goalscorer.

Even Ireland assistant Marco Tardelli, one of the finest defensive players of his era, says he would have had a tough time containing Keane.

“Robbie Keane has a lot of experience and it’s difficult to play against him, even for me when I was a player,” Tardelli smiled.

“I think for us he’s very important. Against Georgia when he came on, it changed because the team knows that the striker has good experience and that he’s always there when they need him.

What he did throughout the years and his achievements shows what he is as a player. He’s a very good player for the Irish team and for football.

‘I’ll retire when I stop scoring goals’: Keane ready to re-write record books

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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