Robbie proves he’s as sharp as ever

Robbie Keane takes questions at Celtic Park. Picture: Donall Farmer

Robbie Keane may be best known for the incisive quality of his finishing skills, but the Republic of Ireland captain has always been equally sharp on those occasions when presented with a question or statement that hasn’t met his full favour.

Snippy, you could say.

Last night was no different as the LA Galaxy striker digested an offering at Ireland’s pre-match press conference pointing out that two of the main rivals for the job as his country’s chief marksmen had found the net for their clubs last weekend.

Shane Long claimed both goals for Southampton in their defeat of Leicester while Jonathan Walters contributed half of Stoke City’s total in their 2-1 defeat of Tottenham. The information was coupled with a query as to Keane’s own fitness and, though it was unstated, the inference was clear: That the veteran was perhaps under pressure and his place up for debate.

Again.

“I scored on Sunday as well,” he replied deadpan.

True laughter.

And his fitness?

“Fine. I had a bit of an issue after the Germany game. I strained my hamstring and missed one of the games and I came back. The last four or five days training has been good and I played 90 minutes on Sunday, so no issues.”

That’s that, then.

In truth, there has been little or no debate about the merits or otherwise of Keane’s place in the team this week, unlike this time last month when his role away to Germany and his ability to influence matters came in for considerable scrutiny.

His abilities were never called into question during the six months spent in this part of the world back in 2010.

Keane scored 16 times in 19 outings for Celtic, although ‘only’ six of those were claimed at Parkhead.

It is a period that he spoke about with some nostalgia last night: From the welcome he received from 5,000 fans when he first arrived at the ground right through to the last appearance away to Hearts in Tynecastle.

It’s a chapter he hopes to draw on tonight, although he is quick to make the point he won’t be the only player on either side for whom this game, and this venue, will spark an added desire to make a mark.

“It’s the same for both teams,” he said when asked if the venue would benefit Ireland. “There’s a lot of players that played here on numerous occasions. Obviously the Scottish players have. One thing I can say is that there are players who haven’t played here before and who are excited about it. We’ve mentioned before about trying to keep players’ feet firmly on the ground and not get too excited. We know exactly the job we have to do. These are the games that players want to be involved in and we haven’t had a competitive game like this against a close rival in a long time.”

Unlikely Heroes – fringe players who could influence the Group D qualifier

Jeff Hendrick (Ireland)

Derby County’s in-form midfielder made a significant impact when introduced as a substitute in the 1-1 draw with Germany, helping set up John O’Shea’s equaliser and upping the tempo in the centre of the park.

Hendrick appears tailor-made to fill the gap left behind by James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan’s absence.

David Marshall (Scotland)

Cardiff’s captain has retained the number one jersey from previous incumbent Craig Gordon following eye-catching displays against Germany and Poland. Marshall’s magnificent save from Robert Lewandowski earned Scotland a valuable point recently and it is going to take a special strike to beat the former Celtic shot-stopper on his old stomping ground.

Richard Keogh (Ireland)

Marc Wilson’s injury has opened the door for Derby captain Richard Keogh to replace Stoke’s defender in the heart of the Irish back four.

The 28-year-old is enjoying a terrific season and would be a useful replacement considering he is likely to face fellow club-mate Chris Martin at Celtic Park.

Steven Naismith (Scotland)

Naismith is flourishing in a more advanced role for Everton following Roberto Martinez’s arrival at Goodison Park.

The 28-year-old has netted four Premier League goals already this term and his opening strike in Scotland’s 2-2 draw with Poland suggests the former Rangers man will require close attention from the Irish defence.

— Ger McCarthy

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