Mick McCarthy, the manager who gave Robbie Keane his debut as a 17-year-old in 1998 has described the striker as “a street footballer who just loved playing”.
McCarthy, who was captured on camera looking on from the sideline in first disbelief and then delight as Keane scored a late equaliser against Germany at the 2002 World Cup, said yesterday: “He was a joy to manage. He is a terrific footballer and at the age of 18, he used to light up the place in training. Whether we played home or away, he still played with the same joy.
“He was like a street footballer that just loved playing. He wasn’t just a street footballer that juggled the ball. He had such a quick brain and he was terrific.”
Niall Quinn, who set up Keane for that famous goal in Ibaraki, had held the Irish scoring record — which was then 21 goals — until the kid from Tallaght came along.
“This was kind of doing the rounds that he was going to go out with a bang and say goodbye,” Quinn told Sky Sports. “When you think of everything he has achieved and done in the green jersey, it has been Roy of the Rovers stuff.
“I was fortunate to sneak a goal ahead of the others (in the record books) and then this fella came along and laughed at us and blew it into the history books.”
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, who included Keane in his squad for the last time yesterday, said: “Robbie’s appearances and goals for Ireland speak for themselves. He is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s finest every players and I do not see his international goal record being beaten for a very long time, if ever. It will take us some time to get over his absence.”
Former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, now a team-mate of Keane’s at LA Galaxy said, “If anyone deserves a great send of for a top international career, it’s Robbie Keane” while another of football’s galacticos, David Beckham, referenced the Dubliner’s “passion and love for the game, especially when playing for his country. Sad to see Keano retiring from Ireland but this last game (against Oman) should be a huge celebration”.
Shay Given, who announced his own international retirement after the Euros, tweeted: “Congrats to Robbie Keane on an amazing career for Ireland. It was an honour to play with him, he will be missed by all.” Many former Irish internationals also took to social media to pay tribute, with Jason McAteer declaring: “Republic of Ireland has only had a few world-class players, Robbie Keane was one of them”, while Steven Reid described him as “an absolute legend on the pitch matched by his character off it.”
And no big Irish football story is complete nowadays without a word or three from the country’s most high profile supporter, President Michael D Higgins. “Robbie Keane deserves to be recognised and celebrated as one of the greatest Irish players of all time and his achievements with the Irish senior team, over more than 18 years will take some surpassing,” the President said in a statement.
“From his underage success with the national side through his remarkable record of 145 senior caps and 67 goals, Robbie has always been an inspirational figure for everyone in Irish football. In recent years, his commitment to the national side, travelling from Los Angeles regularly to join with the team, has been remarkable.
“Moreover, as a representative of our country wherever in the world he has played, Robbie has always conducted himself with great dignity and has been a wonderful ambassador for Ireland.
“On behalf of all of the Irish football fans, I want to thank Robbie for all he has given Irish football over a glittering career in the green jersey.”
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