Tom Elmes saw Robbie Keane sprinting across the pitch towards him, iPad in hand, and his first instinct was fear. “I thought something was wrong,” he recalls with a laugh. One of the FAI’s coaching co-ordinators, the former League of Ireland player is based in IT Carlow, where the Republic of Ireland’s record goalscorer completed his final assessment to earn his combined UEFA A&B coaching licence in 2015.
“Robbie ran over and was going through the session he had planned on the screen and he was asking if it looked right.
“He was nervous, everyone is when they are starting out, and it said so much about him that he had no problem coming to me, someone who had nowhere near the sort of playing career that he had, and wanted to get advice. That isn’t always the case with some of the participants.”
Luke Hardy, the course director at IT Carlow, agrees.
“Robbie was so humble, he had a hectic schedule at the time, because he was still based in the United States playing for LA Galaxy, but the love for the game shone through with him. He wanted to listen and pick up as much as he could, and, once the coaching was done, he only had one demand: He wanted to play a five-a-side with the students who were part of his sessions.”
Keane and Carlo Cudicini, the former Chelsea goalkeeper, both took the course at the same time, while part of Damien Duff’s course also took him to IT Carlow to spend time with his two former teammates. Duff’s journey has taken him from Shamrock Rovers to Celtic, where he is now a trusted member of first-team manager Neil Lennon’s coaching staff, while Keane, of course, is an integral part of Mick McCarthy’s set-up.
“I think there are only a handful of players now who have played with him. To see some young lads coming in and the legend he was, they are in awe of him,” said Glenn Whelan.
Then, they meet him and he’s down to earth. Obviously he plays a part in the attacking side of things.
"He gets involved as well and you are thinking, ‘can you not give us 20 minutes there in the jersey’. It’s a different side for Robbie and for young lads coming in, it gives them a big lift.”
At 38, Keane is part of a new breed of coach. Open and prominent on social media after being introduced to Instagram by Steven Gerrard during their time at LA Galaxy together, he has used the site to give an insight into the mood around the camp.
Take, for example, the prank he played on kitman Mick Lawlor, whom he scared the living daylights out of after lying in wait for him outside the toilet in his hotel room.
“Ye fucking bollox,” Lawlor roared while keeled over in hysterics, but Keane is far from just a joker in the pack.
“He’s very clever,” Matt Doherty adds. “He passes on more tips to forward players. The little tips he’s telling them, the moves and things like that, you can tell he’s very clever. You can see how he was on top of his game as a professional for so long.
You don’t need that much. Just let it go in one ear and stay there. He knows what he’s talking about.
Callum Robinson is one attacker who has been urged to show more intent with runs in behind, as opposed to showing for the ball to feet, while during the last get-together Keane attempted to help ease a frustrated Shane Long at the end of one session with an arm around the shoulder and a few quiet words of encouragement after the Southampton striker struggled badly in a shooting session.
That joy of the game is something that has never left Keane.
“He’s still got it, I’ll tell you that,” said Callum O’Dowda. “Even in training when you watch him, he’s fantastic just as he was a fantastic player.
“As a coach now, I asked him how he is finding it. He obviously misses playing, but he’s someone you definitely look up to. As soon as he opens his mouth, you want to listen to him given the level that he has played at and what he has done for the country. It’s phenomenal really. On the coaching side he has been good.
“Obviously, as a striker, he knows what they want, while for me, as a wide player, he knows the service that they want. It’s the little things as well, mentally getting into your head, he’s definitely good to have around.”
Doherty laughs at one particular session this week.
“We played boxes today and he put it through a few people’s legs as well. He still has a lot of quality and, when he joins in, in training, he takes it seriously. He still looks good.”
Keane is looking the part but as he begins on his coaching journey, it appears there is substance as well as style.