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Sunday 25 September 2016

Robbie: History can't drag us down

Keane hoping for better day in Stade de France

Robbie Keane at Republic of Ireland squad training at the Stade de France. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Keane at Republic of Ireland squad training at the Stade de France. Photo: Sportsfile

We have a funny relationship with history, us Irish.

An entire generation went through our nation's education system without learning anything about the Civil War because the wounds were still too deep and it also took generations for the presence and sacrifice of Irishmen in World War One to be recognised.

Our football history is a bit like that too. Pick and mix. The successes of 1988 and 1990 are recalled and passed on, people not even born at the time of Euro '88 being able to sing the songs. But defeat to Holland in 1994 and the entire Euro 2012 campaign... let's not talk about it.

Robbie Keane has touched on that in the last 24 hours as he looked ahead to tonight's meeting of Ireland and Sweden in Paris.

It's a big tournament for Ireland but a poignant one for Keane and a batch of his team-mates. None of the current crop of boys in green have really confirmed that they will definitely retire at the end of this tournament, but given their age, it's unlikely that Robbie Keane, Shay Given, John O'Shea, Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan will still be around when the road to World Cup 2018 begins in September.

The emergence in the last few months of Shane Duffy, the big potential possessed by men like Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, and the sight of prospects like Jack Byrne, John Egan, Chris Forrester and Callum O'Dowda waiting in the wings for the next campaign to start means that the clouds which hung heavy over Irish football two years ago are not so ominous.

Those names belong to the future but the past still clings over the team, and for Keane, this tournament is maybe a chance to right those wrongs and at last put the nasty memories in the bin .

Memories

Speaking to the media in the Stade de France yesterday evening, Keane was lobbed a couple of verbal grenades in the shape of bad memories, the defeat to France in the play-off for the 2010 World Cup and the limp display at Euro 2012 when Ireland lost all three games.

Keane, old enough to recall the highs of '88 and '90, is keen to put the recent defeats to bed, no songs to be sung about our 3-1 loss to Croatia and only bad omens from our loss to the French in '09.

"I had forgotten about it until you brought it up," Keane said with a smile (sort-of) when asked by a French reporter about the fact that tonight will be Keane's first time back in the Stade de France since that Thierry Henry-influenced World Cup exit.

"You asked me the question about 2009 and the game against France and clearly I remember it, it's something, like any game, that you have to forget about it as soon as possible. This is a completely different situation and a completely different team.

"As a group of players and coaching staff, we are fully focused. I am not one to dwell on the past, I am just looking forward to the game."

But Keane, whose international career began back in 1998, a time when current team-mate Shane Duffy was just six years old and holding out his own dreams of wearing green one day, is also not so keen to reflect on Euro 2012.

"We had a great spirit four years ago, we played against three of the best teams at that time, possibly, and we didn't win a game," he recalls.

"We went into that group as a group of players thinking we had a chance of getting out of the group. Team spirit has always been high but we played against top, top teams and that's the way it goes in football sometimes.

"Now we are ready, of course, no question about it, the lads are excited and looking forward to the games coming around. It's been a great few weeks' training, it's gone as well as it could possibly have done, everyone's getting back from injury and is ready to go."

Keane started every game for Ireland in the last two major tournaments, 2002 and 2012. But it's possible that Euro 2016 could come and go without him playing a part.

Kevin Moran went to the 1994 World Cup and never kicked a ball. His time had already come and gone, and the same fate could befall long-serving Ireland men like Keane and Shay Given in France. But Keane feels he will still play a part.

Decisions

Lots of decisions have to be made by Martin O'Neill before the 3.50pm deadline today when he has to hand in his team-sheet to a UEFA official.

Brady or Ward at left back? Which two from the quartet of O'Shea, Keogh, Duffy and Clark will play at centre half? Will Wes Hoolahan be in the XI or on the bench? Where best to use Jon Walters?

But Keane starting a game is not even in question. Yet the captain, long in the tooth when it comes to campaigns and how their pan out, feels he can play a role, some role. And score a goal.

Keane will have seen the type of goal scored by Shane Long against Holland last month and think of how a goal like that comes as second nature to the Ireland captain.

Age is only a number, says Keane, the 35-year-old captain of the oldest squad at the tournament.

"Just because I have been around for a long time, there are other players at the tournament the same age as me who started their international careers later," he says.

"There are goals left in me yet, I have been doing it since I was 17 years of age. I am confident in my ability, if given the opportunity but if there is a chance there, hopefully I can take it."

Despite his advanced years and the loss of his position in the starting line-up, Keane still has an aura and the kids who attended Ireland's open training session this week knew his name more than others, though Keane is eager to face up to his equivalent in the Swedish camp.

"How could you not rate him?" he says of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "He is a top, top player and as the gaffer has said, he's been doing it for it for a long, long time.

"He seems to be getting better, he's scored goals no matter where he's been and he has won league titles, he's a top player and someone I admire from a distance. I have played against him on numerous occasions and he's a player to watch."

Zlatan's keen to make history for Sweden, a battle that Robbie Keane also wants to win.

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