Sunday 23 October 2016

Legend Robbie lights up the Aviva

Republic of Ireland 4 Oman 0

Robbie Keane celebrating after scoring in his last international match
Robbie Keane celebrating after scoring in his last international match

Robbie Keane, Ireland's gunslinger goalscorer, walked off into the sunset with the thanks of a nation and another remarkable milestone achieved.

He got the goal which moved him up there alongside Gerd Muller on 68 goals in the all-time scorers chance and again underlined his status as a great, great striker.

It was an emotional night for him and tears flowed freely. Around the crowd, more than a few salty types wiped their eyes with their shirts.

The scene was set with a series of video tributes delivered by Pele, Stevie Gerrard and Bono, heartfelt words from great men which nicely reflected Keane's status as a local and global star.

But the walk-up punters the FAI were hoping for to celebrate the departure of an Irish legend didn't quite materialise or if they did, the base crowd for this game would have been poor indeed but for Robbie. It was a balmy evening and there was nothing else on in Dublin.

All day, radio and television stations filled their time with tributes and if anyone thought that Keane was neither loved nor respected in the past, that is clearly not the case any more.

Perhaps it took the reality of his retirement for the realisation to dawn that we won't have Robbie Keane around any more.

When the teams came out, the fans only had one man they wanted to see and if it was unusual for an international captain to have a teething baby in his arms, nobody minded.


The stadium screens showed Keane's chiselled chin as the Ireland team belted out the national anthem, another moment for emotions to bubble to the surface.

Once the game started, you might have expected sentiment to end but no. The lads wanted a goal for Robbie and they went out of their way to make sure it happened.

But it was the other Robbie, the hero of Lille, who got the night off to a perfect start.

Brady's eighth minute free-kick from the edge of the box was a thing of beauty which flew into the right corner with Oman goalkeeper Al Rushaidi rooted to his spot.

Shane Long fired a cross in from the left in the 14th minute but it dropped a foot behind the main man and squirted clear to Jon Walters who could have taken a shot but tried to lay it off for Keane.

Keane couldn't get his foot around the ball and a few minutes later after Walters hit the post, he was judged offside as he raced to crack home the rebound.

In the 27th minute, a chance for a trademark Keane goal when Glenn Whelan lobbed one from the half-way line over the defence.

Keane beat Al Rushaidi to the ball but his clipped volley was inches over and landed on top of the netting.

It was beginning to look like the goal everyone wanted just wasn't going to happen but it is never wise to second guess and in the 30th minute, Keane delivered on command.

It was trademark Robbie. A flick into the box from Walters found him loitering with intent and a wonderful clip over a defender's head left him with a goal at his mercy. Cue trademark somersault goal celebration and a smile on every face in the stadium.

It was a touching moment when Keane turned a small corner of the Aviva bathed in Crumlin United blue to salute the next generation of potential Ireland internationals.

Wonderful stuff and within a few minutes, the party kicked into another gear when Walters sent a bullet header beyond Al Rushaidi's reaching arms to make it 3-0.

The only thing left to do for Keane was to score a hat-trick but that would have been asking too much.

In the end, Keane's career ended with a substitution. Wes Hoolahan was the man Martin O'Neill sent in to replace the man of the moment.

Across the pitch, Irish players stopped and clapped. Oman too paid their respects and around the ground, a huge ovation lifted into the night sky.

On came Jeff Hendrick, the £10m man fresh from his Burnley medical and ready to roll.


Just a few minutes after he came in, he delivered a sweet ball into Walters who sprinted away from Al Rushaidi and cut a shot back and into the net.

Shortly afterwards, Hendrick produced the best save of the night from Al Rushaidi when he shot from 12 yards after a nice pass from James McClean but the goalkeeper dived full length to his right to touch the ball over.

By then, O'Neill had all but emptied his bench and the game lost the focus it had while Keane was on the pitch and hunting for goals.

But nobody minded.

Ireland don't score four goals very often and a performance like this was the perfect way to say goodbye to a great player.

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