Belfast Telegraph

Martin O'Neill warns Robbie Kean familiarity with Celtic Park will count for little

By Damien Spellman

Martin O’Neill has warned Republic of Ireland skipper Robbie Keane his familiarity with Celtic Park will count for little as he looks to take a further step towards Euro 2016 qualification in Scotland.

The 34-year-old striker will return to the Glasgow venue where he spent four months wearing the famous green and white hoops of Celtic on loan from former club Tottenham in 2010, having taken his senior international goal tally to 65 with a hat-trick in the 7-0 demolition of Group D minnows Gibraltar last month.

However, O’Neill, who spent five years in charge at Celtic, insists neither that record, nor the fact that Keane found the back of the net 16 times in 19 appearances for the Bhoys, will be in his mind as he attempts to select the team best suited to claim another three points at the expense of Gordon Strachan’s men.

He said: “If you are a goalscorer and you happen to visit a ground you have scored a lot of goals in, I think that must help whether you are playing in the Premier League or whether you are playing in the Bundesliga or whether you are playing anywhere.

“I think there are some players who will say that they have got favourite grounds to visit, and Robbie has played up at Celtic.

“But that is not entering my head. That’s not my thought, because somebody might have actually frequented there a bit more often than other people.”

Keane has, however, started each of the three qualifiers for which O’Neill has been at the helm to date, a 2-1 victory over Georgia in Tbilisi, the rout of the Gibraltarians and a creditable 1-1 draw in Germany last month.

That last result, which was secured by defender John O’Shea’s injury-time strike, in particular sent spirits soaring within the Republic camp, and while nobody is underestimating just how difficult it will be to find a way past a rejuvenated Scotland, there is no fear either.

O’Neill, who was without regular starters Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy in Gelsenkirchen, said: “Like anything, if you get a result against the world champions on their own pitch, then it’s got to be a big morale-booster.

“I think we are capable of coming and attacking more than we did against Germany, in that sense. We had a few problems, of course, with a number of players, good players, who were injured.

“We had to shift things around, playing a midfielder (David Meyler) at full-back, so it wasn’t exactly ideal. The players did wonderfully well to get a result there, a fantastic result, really fantastic. It’s given us confidence to go and try to beat Scotland.”

Victory in Glasgow would represent the perfect end to an encouraging first year at the helm for O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane — the dream team was unveiled in November last year — with their side currently joint top of the group with Poland with both currently three points better off than world champions Germany and the Scots.

O’Neill said: “We have played three games, three competitive matches — the rest has been a build-up to it. There have been a lot of friendly games.

“We have changed the side around almost every single game that we have played to have a look at players, but really the three competitive games are the only things that count.

“We have got some points on the board at this minute, seven out of nine, so I am absolutely delighted with the way things have been going.”

Much of the talk this week, seemingly to the irritation of the Republic manager, has surrounded the reception Scottish-born players Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy might receive on their return, although in McCarthy’s case, the speculation could yet prove to be moot.

The Everton midfielder, who celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday, did so with a gentle stroll around the training pitch at Gannon Park under the watchful gaze of doctor Alan Byrne as he continued to nurse the hamstring problem he arrived with.

He was due to undergo another scan yesterday afternoon, and while O’Neill, who lost striker Kevin Doyle to a groin problem on Tuesday evening having already ruled out Stoke defender Marc Wilson, remains cautiously optimistic, the clock is ticking.

He said: “James is obviously feeling better each day. He didn’t do any work today — he’s going for another scan this afternoon, which is kind of an update — but he is feeling better, so we will see what tomorrow might bring.”

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