Ireland must prepare for life after Robbie Keane

Harry Arter seems eager to make up for lost time and opportunities.

The 26-year old midfielder won the man of the match award for his display against the Netherlands in one of the Euro 2016 warm-ups at the Aviva last May. It was a decent performance rather than a dazzling one, if truth be told, but he certainly didn’t hold back.

Arter picked up a yellow card that evening for an ill-advised and badly-executed tackle on Memphis Depay and he followed up a generally robust though tidy display with an early calling card last night when he went in recklessly on Abdulaziz Humaid Mubarak Al Muqbali.

The slide in was as long as the Oman striker’s name.

You kinda know where the Bournemouth midfielder is coming from.

When the Ireland players assumed their positions for the anthems here he stood at the fag end of the line, the furthest away from Robbie Keane who had 70 caps to his name by the time he was the age Arter is at now.

That seemed fitting.

This was just Arter’s third cap after all. A debut against England in Dublin last summer and that appearance against the Dutch had been his lot until now, his European Championship hopes having been ended by an untimely thigh injury suffered in training before the squad was announced.

His presence here was the most visible reminder that this friendly was about the future as well as the past. A new World Cup qualifying campaign begins for Martin O’Neill’s side in Belgrade this Monday and players like Arter needed to bag more than selfies with their soon-to-be ex-skipper.

Keane was granted 56 minutes on his final appearance.

The pity is that Daryl Murphy wasn’t able to avail of some time on the park, too. Murphy has played 23 times for Ireland without breaking his international drought but he spent the entire 90-plus minutes on the bench in the West Stand.

This against an Oman side that seemed determined to bolster the goalscoring record of any Irish player who cared to venture into their box: Keane beat his marker into the danger area so often he must have felt like a fleet-footed 26-year old.

All of which isn’t to say Murphy wasn’t being saved for Serbia.

Even so, this was an evening of undeniable value and a pointer to the immediate future. Arter again looked composed and capable on the ball, his ability to find space in claustrophobic environs a welcome sight as Ireland look ahead to a difficult group. And his through ball for Walters for the fourth goal was perfectly weighted.

Cyrus Christie banked another 90 minutes at right-back in Seamus Coleman’s absence, Callum O’Dowda earned cap number two off the bench while Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick were afforded decent chunks of time to build on their showings in France.

In fact, with Marc Wilson and Jonathan Walters reintegrating themselves back into the first XI after their respective injury issues over the off-season, it all made for a decent night’s work done under the cloak of a testimonial atmosphere.

Life without Robbie — apologies if that sounds like a documentary — starts for real today. It gets very real indeed in the Serbian capital early next week and the chief concern for O’Neill as that date looms is the continued paucity of options up front in the wake of his captain’s retirement.

Keane’s star has been waning since O’Neill dropped him for that European qualifier against Scotland in Glasgow almost two years ago now and yet Shane Long was the youngest striker in last night’s squad and the Southampton man is five months off his 30th birthday.

No doubt about it: Keane will be missed.


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