Keane backs star man to bounce back
Roy Keane has insisted Robbie Keane still has a significant role to play for the Republic of Ireland despite being dropped for the first time in 13 years.
The 34-year-old LA Galaxy striker headed back to the United States on Saturday after being released from the squad a day after being used only as a substitute in Ireland's 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifier defeat in Scotland.
It was the first time the Dubliner, who will begin preparations for next Sunday's MLS play-offs showdown with Seattle Sounders on his return, has been left out of the team for a competitive match when fit since a clash with Estonia in 2001.
However, assistant manager Keane, a former Ireland team-mate, was adamant that the nation's record cap-holder and goalscorer remains a key member of Martin O'Neill's squad.
He said: "Robbie Keane is massive for this team, absolutely massive.
"Everyone keeps saying he was disappointed - of course he was. Tell me any player who is going to be left out of a big game who is not going to be disappointed. That's what you expect from Robbie.
"But Robbie is brilliant for the group and brilliant for the team. He's a top, top player, he's been doing it for years and hopefully he will score goals for the next number of years.
"But you just pick a team for a certain game, and the way Robbie reacted to the disappointment to our training session yesterday was fantastic, absolutely different class.
"Robbie Keane is as good a professional as I have come across and he will be disappointed, of course. But there are other players who were left out."
The frontman, who took his tally for his country to 65 goals with a hat-trick against Gibraltar last month, had only 12 minutes in which to try to make an impression as he won his 138th cap at Celtic Park, and his frustration was clear afterwards.
He told reporters he needed to play as part of an attacking partnership and that he was not suited to a lone striking role, admitting he was "no Niall Quinn", the towering striker whose previous Irish record of 21 goals he passed a decade ago.
Asked about that statement, Roy Keane, who also played alongside Quinn and later accepted his offer of employment as Sunderland manager, said simply: "He's a lot better than Niall Quinn."
As the younger man headed back across the Atlantic, the rest of the squad - barring midfielder Darron Gibson, who has returned to club Everton for treatment on a minor knee injury - were licking their wounds and starting to turn their attention to Tuesday night's friendly against the United States in Dublin.
Ireland were ultimately undone by a fine Shaun Maloney finish in Glasgow, which condemned them to their first Group D defeat and left them locked in a three-way battle with the Scots and world champions Germany for second place behind leaders Poland.
They have been criticised for their direct approach against Gordon Strachan's men, which failed to yield the number of opportunities for which they might have hoped in front of goal.
But while there was disappointment within the camp, O'Neill's number two was adopting a bullish approach to the recovery process.
Roy Keane said: "I didn't expect us to go through the whole campaign unbeaten, there were always going to be some points dropped. But we have to take our medicine, we have to take the criticism that's coming our way and bounce back.
"It's very, very tight, absolutely. There's not much between a lot of the teams. On paper Germany, you would still think, would be the favourites, but between Poland, ourselves and Scotland, I think it's going to be very, very tight."
Four of the Republic's next five qualifiers will take place at the Aviva Stadium and their form there is likely to go a long way towards deciding where they finish in the group.
But as he and O'Neill prepared to bring an end to their 2014 fixtures less than a fortnight after celebrating a year in post, the assistant boss was happy enough with his lot.
He said: "There have been no real surprises. You are always learning about the group, even the other night, lots round about the group. But no real shocks or surprises.
"We have good teams coming to the Aviva, but with the home support and the lads will be licking their wounds for the next month or two, we will look to bounce back. That is what sport is all about, bouncing back, and we have got some good lads.
"They were hurting pretty badly the other night, we know they were. If you think for one minute they are not hurt by the other night, then you don't know the group."