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'He is pretty much like John O'Shea and I cannot pay him a higher compliment than that'

Martin O’Neill paid tribute to Richard Keogh on the eve of tonight’s Nations League clash.

Richard Keogh captained Ireland as they drew 0-0 with Denmark on Saturday.
Richard Keogh captained Ireland as they drew 0-0 with Denmark on Saturday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

- Paul Fennessy reports from Abbotstown

AFTER MARTIN O’NEILL named his side to face Denmark at the weekend, much of the talk revolved around Cyrus Christie and Matt Doherty.

Those selections overshadowed the similarly big decision to not only recall Richard Keogh but make him captain — 18 months on from his last competitive Ireland start, which coincidentally happened to be the most recent time Ireland played Wales in Dublin.

That day in March 2017, Keogh kept a clean sheet in a defence that included John O’Shea. But since then, the Waterford native has retired from international football.

However, Keogh, who will be almost 34 by the time the 2020 European Championships roll around, insisted when speaking to The42 earlier this year that he never contemplated retiring from international football in the wake of World Cup play-off disappointment.

You get the sense too that Martin O’Neill is more than happy to have the defender around, for what he brings to the dressing room in addition to his prowess on the pitch.

“He is pretty much like John O’Shea and I cannot pay him a higher compliment than that,” the Ireland manager says.

“Richard has mentioned himself that he has sometimes not played in the side but he has still played some big, big matches for us and has always done well.

“It’s his influence around people that he sometimes does not realise it himself. He is a really, really good influence, particularly with the younger lads here.”

The Derby star, who could face two of his Rams team-mates tonight, with both Tom Lawrence and Harry Wilson selected as part of Ryan Giggs’ squad, is hopeful the Irish team can play with more spark and initiative than they managed in Saturday’s drab 0-0 draw with Denmark.

We are at home, we want to get the crowd going, get the atmosphere going,” he says.

“To do that you run hard, you tackle, you do the basics well. And if you do the basics well, a lot of the time the other things come with it.”

“We want to make sure that we are on the front-foot and are playing with intensity.

“If we play with intensity and at our best, we know we are a good team.”

John O'Shea Richard Keogh has been likened to John O'Shea by Martin O'Neill. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Keogh echoed his manager’s sentiments following on from the Denmark game in suggesting Ireland need to play higher up the pitch and put more pressure on the ball at times, having struggled to exert considerable influence on the play for much of the 90 minutes on Saturday. He also acknowledged that the relatively short time the squad have together was far from ideal, particularly when trying to get to grips with a new 3-5-2 system.

“We have a short period, meeting up together, and there is not a lot of time for the manager to get exactly what himself and the coaching staff want [across].

“But as a general idea, there is a lot of information coming to us and as players, we have been taking that on-board and making sure we put it into practice.

“So I think if you were to ask any manager, he would love more time to go over exactly what they want, but sometimes it’s not possible.

“At the end of the day, when we go out there, it’s up to us to put in a performance and try to play to the best of our ability.”

Prior to the weekend’s game, Keogh has had to largely be content with a place on the Ireland bench in recent times. Since the Euros, Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark have invariably been preferred at the back, but the latter’s error-ridden display against Wales last month appears to have paved the way for the experienced defender’s return to the starting XI.

I think the reality is we have got some good players in my position who are playing in the Premier League,” he says.

“Not that I’m not playing at a high level myself, but with the manager he has been fantastic for me ever since he has been in charge.

“I have played a lot of games, he has given me some of the best memories of my career, so I have to thank him a lot for that.

“But, yeah, there are times when you have to be patient. That’s just the nature of football.

“It doesn’t mean that you don’t train well — you put yourself in a position for the manager to put you forward.

“I’ve never felt [negatively about it], it’s always been a fantastic honour for me to play for my country.

“Every time I’ve been called up to the squad, it’s about the country doing well and supporting your teammates.

“But I’m always confident in my ability. I know if I’m playing well, the manager’s got trust in me to play me if needs be.”

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Paul Fennessy

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