The last sighting we had of Robbie Keane on the pitch of the Municipal Stadium in Poznan pretty much summed up Ireland’s Euro 2012 — a proud man vainly chasing a lost cause.
That tournament should have been one of the highlights of the striker’s stellar career; instead it added little to his international reputation — other than confirming his willingness to put in the hardest yards — and absolutely nothing to his record goal haul.
But, a year and half on, he returns to the scene of those crimes in upbeat and optimistic frame of mind, visibly buoyed by the appointments of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, and having marked his debut under the new management in signature style, by bringing his remarkable goal haul to 62.
The almost inevitable emphasis at yesterday’s press conference then was on how the skipper might feel about the chance to replace a bad memory of Poznan with a good one tonight.
But before Robbie even had a chance to answer, his manager intervened with a germane point.
“There is a fair difference here,” said O’Neill firmly. “This is a friendly game, with respect, and the other is a big tournament. I am hoping he doesn’t get that out of his system for a while.”
And Keane — who said that just walking into the press room at the Municipal Stadium had given him a flashback — didn’t demur.
“Listen, obviously it was tough to take the last time,” he said, “and I don’t think anything will help heal those wounds but, as players, you have to move on very, very quickly. I have been playing for a long time and I am not a player that dwells on the past, I always look forward.
“And when you are playing, you always want to win, regardless of whether it is a friendly or not — and certainly this game will be no different.
“The memories for all the players involved in the Euros weren’t good. But we can’t dwell too much on what happened in the past. It’s a new start for everybody, with a new management team that’s come into place. Everybody is now looking forward.”
Keane added: “I think you’ve seen the response since the appointment. The whole nation has been very happy and that’s what we want as players.
“But, ultimately, it’s up to us on the field to get wins and keep that buzz around Ireland.”
O’Neill paid tribute to the “infectious enthusiasm” of the Irish players, citing as a prime example the skipper’s insistence on coming in for these friendly games even though the medical advice is that he should get his troublesome Achilles seen to sooner rather than later.
The manager said that Keane’s presence in Dublin and Poznan “spoke volumes” about the player’s commitment to the cause.
“I wanted to come and always want to be involved,” the Dubliner confirmed. “I have time off after this week — it is not like I have a game on Saturday — and I will see the specialist and hopefully get it all sorted out.
“It is kind of looking like surgery will be needed but I won’t know for definite until Monday. But definitely something will have to be done and that is likely to be it.”
O’Neill revealed Keane will be stood down tonight — at least at the start — with John O’Shea taking the captain’s armband.
That is, if the Waterford man is selected.
“But John might not start,” O’Neill mused, somewhat mischievously.
“I don’t know yet. In fact I should have mentioned that to John before I mentioned it to you.
“Don’t leave this room until he comes in — he will be here in 10 minutes. Or get James McClean to tweet it [laughter]”
If Keane remains Ireland’s talisman and most potent threat, that dual role for Poland has been assumed by Borussia Dortmund’s in-demand frontman Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski spoke of his respect for Keane’s record yesterday and last night the 33-year-old responded in kind. He said: “He is obviously a fantastic player and I think over the last few years, he has come on even better and better.
“It goes to show how well he has done with the interest he is creating around the world of football, and the big teams seem to be looking at him.
“He is a very, very good player. He’s a player that I really, really like and he is certainly a player that we have to look out for because he is very, very dangerous and his goalscoring record is incredible.”
As for Keane — O’Neill didn’t rule out the skipper coming off the bench tonight.
“We may still need him to get a breakthrough,” the manager said.
Some things, then, never change.
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