Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Robbie Keane’s relishing role of centurion

Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane

This evening, Robbie Keane will lead his 15-month-old son, Robbie Junior, on to the pitch at the new Aviva Stadium and win the deserved acclaim that will accompany the occasion of his 100th cap.

It is a landmark that leads itself to reflection, with Keane forced to embrace nostalgic mood as he was pressed for his recollections on the eve of this historic date with Lionel Messi and Argentina.

From the highs of the World Cup in 2002, to the lows of Macedonia and France, the Tallaght man has undergone a colourful journey since his senior bow as a half-time substitute against the Czech Republic in Olomouc 12 years ago. Yesterday, he spoke about people like Mick McCarthy and Niall Quinn who proved to be formative influences on that journey. And, of course, his late dad, Robbie Snr, who unfortunately didn't live to see the day that his son joined an elect club.

“I'm sure he will be looking down and will be very proud of what I've achieved,” said Keane, who is thrilled that his child will be mascot for the evening.

Team-mates have lined up to pay tribute to Keane this week, pointing out how he has grown into the captaincy during his four years with the armband.

Certainly, he has shone during the Trapattoni era, acknowledging that he has matured and learned a little more about the game and his responsibilities.

“It's been a great experience for me,” he says, “And the older you get, the more knowledge you get.

“I still have that same buzz and enthusiasm for the game that I did when I came into the team first. I always want to play for my country. You know me by now. Over the years, I never pulled out of squads for reasons. Unless there's been serious injuries. I love coming back to play, and that will never change.”

The desire remains strong, because there is a sense of unfinished business. He may cite the Japan and Korea experience as the highlight of his career in the green jersey to date, yet there is a lingering regret that he should have played in more major tournaments. Hence the desire to build on the promise of Trapattoni's first campaign and push on and book a place in the European Championships.

“I think we could have qualified for more,” he says. “If you looked at the games we were involved in (play-offs), it's not like we got battered in them. We came close.”

It was home form which let Republic down in the last campaign, failing to secure victories against their rivals at Croke Park and losing the first leg of the play-off to the French in GAA HQ. Keane believes a lack of atmosphere, due to the sheer size of the venue, was a negative and is looking forward to life back at Lansdowne.

“I think it's clever to have the fans so close to the pitch,” he stresses. “In years gone by, they've created a real good atmosphere there. Hopefully, this stadium will be very similar in that respect.”

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