Recovering skipper Keane plays through the pain

ROBBIE KEANE and Marco Tardelli have sought to dampen concerns about the Irish skipper’s fitness as the Irish squad prepares to fly out to Yerevan today ahead of Friday’s opening Group B qualifier against Armenia.

The striker trained at Malahide yesterday with strapping on his right knee, the residual effects of a knock he picked up in the first leg of Spurs’ Champions League play-off game against Swiss side Young Boys.

But, afterwards, Keane insisted that he would be fit for Friday’s game.

“It’s sore when I kick the ball but there is no problem when I’m twisting or turning,” he said. “It’s something that I have had for a while but it will be okay.”

Assistant manager Marco Tardelli also gave an upbeat assessment. “Robbie is fit and I think it’s possible for him to score a goal in Armenia.”

The hope must be that the Irish camp’s confidence is not misplaced, since the loss of a player of Keane’s stature is just about the last thing Ireland can afford on foot of what Tardelli agrees is already the worst injury crisis with which he and Giovanni Trapattoni have had to contend in the two years they’ve been in charge.

Paul McShane is the latest to be ruled out with a hamstring injury but if treatment back at Hull City proves successful, he will rejoin the squad before Tuesday’s game against Andorra in Dublin. Ipswich Town’s Darren O’Dea also shipped a painful injury in training, a subsequent scan revealing a minor knee sprain but no serious damage. He will be assessed again by the FAI medical team this morning before a decision is made on whether he will make the flight.

“O’Dea, McShane, Treacy, Duff, Andrews, Hunt, Folan — many players are injured,” said Tardelli yesterday. “But we have many options in the squad. We have two players for each position. We don’t feel we need to call in anyone else.”

Richard Dunne also sat out training yesterday but Tardelli said that the Aston Villa defender was simply being rested after playing on Sunday while, encouragingly, Aiden McGeady took a full part in training even though he continues to carry a minor ankle knock.

Tardelli said: “He has a little problem in the ankle but he could play if that’s what the boss decides.”

With temperatures in the Armenian capital set to top 35C over the next few days, Tardelli knows the Irish will be in for a Group B baptism of fire.

“Yes, it will be very hot for us but it was also very hot in Cyprus. Montenegro too. If we play well and with attention, it’s not important whether it’s rain or sun. If we concentrate, I think it’s possible for us to come out of this with a good result. A win? I hope.”

Meanwhile, there have been changes in the Irish U21 squad for the double-header European Championship games against Switzerland and Turkey. Cillian Sheridan (called up to the senior squad), Stephen Gleeson (back), James McCarthy (knee) and Aaron Doran (ankle) have all been ruled out, and will be replaced by Adam Rooney (Inverness), Richie Towell (Celtic), Graham Carey (Huddersfield) and Robbie Brady (Manchester United). The U21s face Switzerland on Friday before taking on Turkey on Tuesday.


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