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Saturday 1 October 2016

Oman the last post as Keane calls time on career

Pre-Serbia warm-up will be Keane's final game in green

Ireland’s record goalscorer Robbie Keane will retire from international football after the upcoming friendly against Oman. Photo: PA
Ireland’s record goalscorer Robbie Keane will retire from international football after the upcoming friendly against Oman. Photo: PA
Robbie Keane is pictured during his international debut in a friendly against the Czech Republic in Olomouc back in March 1998. Photo: Sportsfile

Great international careers often end in the shadows.

Timing and circumstances rarely conspire to offer everyone a chance to say goodbye properly.

Robbie Keane is making sure he gets his next week.

Shay Given's first run at retirement after Euro 2012 came via a conference call in a hotel in Astana, Kazakhstan and his second after Euro 2016 on social media.

Names slip quietly off the sports pages when their time comes after an initial few days of tributes. Not on the list? Not on the radar.

It's cruel but inevitable and down through the years, there have been many sad stories of former legends ending in a bad way financially or even mentally.

It must be so hard to be so important to so many people for so long and suddenly find you're nothing more than an ordinary Joe.

These days players stay involved by doing a bit of punditry or in the case of lads like Jason McAteer and Ray Houghton, as FAI ambassadors.

Grander

But Robbie has a much grander plan than that. Fading into the background or posing for selfies while wandering around Tipperary pressing the flesh at the FAI Festival of Football is not what he has in mind.

If he gets his wish, he'll be the Ireland manager one day. Soon if he can manage it.

It must also be said that a quiet exit is hardly Robbie's style. The man has a sense of theatre and he likes to take a bow as we all know since the moment we saw him do his first somersault and gunslinger goal celebration.

If he's honest, it would probably have been the right time to quit when he waved goodbye to fans in Lyon after France beat Ireland 2-1 but he obviously has something more structured in mind and why not?

He has been remarkable for his country and ranks right up there among the very best we have produced.

Best striker? No contest. John Aldridge had an amazing club career and Frank Stapleton was no mean player but Keane's record is untouchable.

He might not have the medals but at international level he has the goals and that's all that counts for a striker.

Best player ever? A much bigger question and one which will be debated for many years as indeed will be the notion that at club level, he never quite got the most out of his talent.

He hands over the baton to a thin enough set of attacking options for Martin O'Neill as he plans for Serbia and the Russia 18 opener in Belgrade in less than two weeks

O'Neill is approaching the start of the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign with about as little fanfare as is humanly possible.

For about a week now, the announcement of the squad has been an ephemeral thing, dancing in front of us but never quite settling on the desk until an email landed yesterday with a few quotes attached.

"After the excitement of UEFA Euro 2016 it seems as if we had little time to enjoy some excellent performances during that tournament," said O'Neill. "The World Cup qualifying campaign is already upon us and we have a difficult set of fixtures in the coming months.

"The visit of Oman to the Aviva Stadium reminds us of the game they played in Dublin two years ago. That took place immediately before we embarked on our European qualifying campaign.

"This game is ideal preparation for our first qualifier against Serbia in Belgrade a few days later. The Oman game also gives us the chance to play in front of Ireland supporters who enhanced their own reputation in France. We are looking forward to both games."

Shortly after the squad surfaced, Keane made his announcement and O'Neill was quick to offer his praise for Ireland's now former captain.

"Robbie's appearances and goals for Ireland speak for themselves," said O'Neill.

"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," added the Ireland boss.

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