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Martin O'Neill would have relished chance to work with Robbie Keane in his prime

Published 30/08/2016

Robbie Keane will retire from international football after Wednesday's game
Robbie Keane will retire from international football after Wednesday's game

Martin O'Neill has admitted his only disappointment at working with Robbie Keane was that he did not inherit him until he was 33 years old.

The Republic of Ireland boss will hand the now 36-year-old striker an emotional farewell as he brings down the curtain on his international career in Wednesday night's friendly against Oman in Dublin.

Keane will win his 146th cap as he attempts to add to his record tally of 67 goals for his country at the Aviva Stadium on a night which will single the end of an era.

The LA Galaxy frontman has played a greater role off the pitch than on it in recent years but he will pull on the green shirt for the final time having written himself into the nation's sporting folklore.

O'Neill said: "Since I've come, the only disappointment I would have had is that I didn't have a 27-year-old Robbie Keane rather than a 33-year-old, at the time, I think he was.

"He's been a terrific, an absolutely terrific player and certainly he will be hard to replace.

"Robbie will take away some great memories with the number of games he has played, the number of goals he has scored."

Fellow striker Jonathan Walters, who along with the likes of Shane Long and Daryl Murphy will now have to plug a sizeable gap in the Irish armoury, has seen at close hand how destructive the Tallaght-born marksman can be.

Walters said: "The best quality of any striker is putting the ball in the back of the net, and he does it better than most. At club level, international level, his record speaks for itself.

"He came in from such a young age and he's had such a long time on the international stage, and even at Premier League level and every level he has been at, he's been exceptional.

"There's not much more you can say, really. As a striker, the best quality is putting it in the back of the net and he does it exceptionally well.

"He's one of those players in the box, he will find space. His movement and his touch are second to none and he will always get a finish off, a strike off at goal.

"He seems to bamboozle defenders. He has that first touch away from them and his second touch is in the back of the net. He has done it on so many occasions.

"It's been a pleasure to play with him and watch as well growing up."

For all the Oman game is a low-key friendly - the visitors have drawn with League of Ireland sides Cork and Limerick during their tour of the country - it will also serve as a warm-up for Monday's opening World Cup qualifier in Serbia.

As a result, O'Neill knows he will have to strike a balance between the sentiment of Keane's final bow and the business of honing his squad for the onset of hostilities.

He said: "I haven't told him whether he will start the game, but he will certainly be participating in the game. There's a fairly decent chance he will start the game."

He added with a smile: "Is he one [goal] behind Gerd Muller? Is he? Well, he'd better do it in the first 20 minutes of the game because he's going to find time pressing, really pressing."

Neither Seamus Coleman nor James McCarthy will feature against the Omanis as they continue their recovery from ankle and groin injuries respectively, while defender John O'Shea will join up on Wednesday after staying at club Sunderland for treatment on a hip injury.

O'Neill revealed he had urged 35-year-old O'Shea not to follow Keane and Shay Given into international retirement after Euro 2016.

He said: "I still believe that John has something to offer for us in every capacity, so I just thought if he was thinking about retiring at that stage maybe just to have second thoughts.

"On the strength of that, then John thought, 'Well okay, let's see how it goes from here and take it on'."

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