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Dublin: 9°C Monday 17 May 2021

'It's great to be back involved because I love pulling on the green jersey'

Derby County’s Richard Keogh captained Ireland to their first Uefa Nations League point last night.

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland were worthy of the draw that earned them their first point in the Uefa Nations League last night at the Aviva Stadium.

That was the assessment of defender Richard Keogh, who captained Ireland to a goalless draw with Denmark in his first competitive international appearance for 19 months.

Richard Keogh Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With the Derby County defender operating on the right side of the back three in a 3-5-2 set-up, Ireland kept their first clean sheet in seven outings and delivered an improved performance on last month’s admittedly woeful 4-1 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.

“It was a tight game. We knew what threat they posed but I think a draw was probably a fair result,” said Keogh, who didn’t feature in either leg of last November’s play-off which saw Denmark end Ireland’s hopes of World Cup qualification with a 5-1 trouncing in Dublin.

“We had a couple of chances, they obviously hit the post and had one cleared off the line, but for all the possession they had I don’t think they tested Darren [Randolph] too much. On another day we could have nicked it. A clean sheet is a real positive for us. It’s a good base for us to move forward.”

He added: “It’s a new formation for us as well. We’re still learning certain aspects of it. But I think we showed tonight that we’re capable of it and it suits the personnel that we’ve got in this squad.

“When Callum [Robinson] came on he did well. Shane [Long] was excellent, held up the ball and gave them problems. When we did get our moves together I thought we looked a good team. It’s just about maybe having more of those moments in games, but when you’re playing against a good side you know you have to defend well.

“We’ll go into every game trying to win it. We’ll go over this game and see what we can do better but a clean sheet is a real step in the right direction for us.”

Keogh has plenty of experience of captaincy at club level. He has also worn the armband for Ireland previously — as recently as last month’s friendly against Poland — but this was the first time that the London-born defender has led the team out in a competitive fixture.

“It’s the biggest honour I’ve ever had in my career,” he said. “If you’d have said to me when I was a young boy that I’d captain my country, I wouldn’t have believed you. To do it four times and for the manager to put that trust in me is a big thing for me.

“Being a bit of an older player and maybe being a captain at Derby, the lads trust me and they feel they can rely on me. It’s the greatest honour that I’ve had. When the manager needs me I’m ready to play and do well for my country. It’s my proudest honour.”

Richard Keogh shows his frustration with Mathias Jorgensen Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Making his first competitive appearance for Ireland since the goalless draw with Wales in March 2017, Keogh acquitted himself well in a defensive trio that also included Brighton and Hove Albion’s Shane Duffy and Kevin Long of Burnley.

Keogh said: “We’ve got good players at centre-back who are playing in the Premier League and doing very well. It’s always going to be tough [to get into the team] but I’d like to think that whenever I’ve played I haven’t let the manager down and I haven’t let my country down.

“Whether I’m playing or not it doesn’t matter. It’s about the team winning, it’s about the country winning and supporting the lads. I think the manager likes a lot of the attributes that I bring to the table, which is probably why I’ve been a big part of his squad since he took over.

“I can’t argue. He’s given me the best moments of my career — the Euros, the captaincy — so I’m very thankful to the manager and the coaching staff for giving me that trust. It’s great to be back involved because I love pulling on the green jersey. It’s just a huge honour for me. I’ve enjoyed every cap I’ve played and every squad I’ve made so long may it last.”

Despite the heavy defeat to Wales in Cardiff in September, Keogh expressed confidence in Ireland’s potential to make amends when Ryan Giggs brings his team to Dublin for the return fixture on Tuesday.

“We know it’s going to be another tough game,” he said. “We didn’t have a great result there but after the Poland performance and this performance, I think there’s a lot to build on. We’ll recover now and we know we’ve got to have another big effort on Tuesday night.

“They’ll obviously come here to try and win the game, but we’re at home so we’ve got to make sure we make the atmosphere like it was tonight and we’ve got to get around them.

“We’ve got to put them under pressure a bit and have more moments like we did tonight towards the end. We’re looking forward to the game.”

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Paul Dollery

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