ROBBIE Keane may be big news in the United States these days, but the Republic of Ireland captain will be treated like a king upon returning to Tallaght today.
Back in Dublin with LA Galaxy for a pre-season trip, the 34-year-old drew a crowd of over 3,000 spectators for a training session to Tallaght Stadium, where they will play Shamrock Rovers in a friendly.
Officials expect to sell out today’s game, largely thanks to the presence of Keane, who remains hugely popular in these parts having grown up close to the South Dublin venue before moving to England as a teenager.
Keane was instrumental in bringing the MLS Cup champions here as they had planned on training at Tottenham Hotspur, but his influence has been clear to see since they arrived last week.
Yet, he is even surprised by the fanfare he has witnessed.
“The reception the team has gotten from the public has been great. To come to Ireland, so far away, and to be welcomed with open arms, everybody is certainly humbled by that,” said Keane.
“It’s very exciting to be here all week, in my hometown. Certainly the players, I think, have enjoyed it. Now we’re down to the game, which is the reason why we’re here. It will certainly be a good fitness test for us.”
After a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, an audience with President Michael D. Higgins, and a stop at Crumlin’s Children’s Hospital, Keane is now focusing on today’s game, which Galaxy are using to prepare for their MLS season opener with Chicago Fire on March 6.
Favourites to retain the championship, Galaxy will once again rely heavily on captain Keane but also on midfielder Steven Gerrard, who arrives in the summer once he finishes up with Liverpool.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena flew over to England on Thursday to meet the Reds captain ahead of the Europa League victory over Beskitas and he’s already excited about pairing him up with Keane.
“I saw him yesterday and I was surprised to see how excited Steven is to come to Los Angeles,” said Arena at a press conference in Tallaght Stadium yesterday.
“Obviously, he knows that he has a huge obligation to fulfil with Liverpool and to close out his career there in the right manner, they are involved in some Cup competitions, and then he will be very eager to get to Los Angeles.
“I think he and Robbie [Keane] are going to be fantastic together and we’re real excited to have players of the quality of Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard with the LA Galaxy.”
Keane is clearly who the supporters will be turning out to see today, but it is also a game for Rovers boss Pat Fenlon to look at trialists Max Blanchard and Tim Clancy ahead of the SSE Airtricity League resuming.
The Hoops are rebuilding under Fenlon and he is looking forward to the new campaign. So today’s game presents him with an opportunity to reel in some of those supporters who be hailing their hometown hero.