John Giles: Massive blow if Robbie is missing
Keane factor critical if Irish to win in Skopje
I'VE always been puzzled by the amount of criticism Robbie Keane has attracted throughout his international career. It's only when he's missing that his worth is truly appreciated.
His club situation has always been in flux and right now he is fighting for a new contract but for Ireland, he has had a huge influence on the past decade and it would be a big blow if he is not available to line out against Macedonia.
This has been a week in which the nature of loyalty has been explored at length and I have to say, I'm a bit bemused by all the headlines we've seen since Giovanni Trapattoni had a go, in no uncertain terms, at the group of players who chose not to turn up.
I'm always slow to make judgements in these circumstances and I've watched the week unfold with no proper idea of the detail behind the withdrawals we have seen.
The clubs say that James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Jonathan Walters are injured, but Trapattoni seems to have a different view and he is the man on the spot.
But I do think that there is an absence of a simple process which would make the kind of confusion we have seen redundant.
In other words, there should be a recognisable method for establishing who is fit and who is not fit. This is a fundamental for any international team and quite clearly, Trapattoni has not been in command of all the information he needs.
Why this should be the case, I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he doesn't go to see games in England and hasn't established a rapport with players.
It is not always necessary for an international manager to know his players intimately but I can't remember an Ireland manager who wasn't hands on in this area.
I know that when I was involved with the Ireland team, there was never any doubt about who was able to play and who was injured. It certainly did not take a week of speculation to establish the fitness of any individual but I accept that those were different days.
Now, we have so many different factors which influence young footballers that I would hesitate before criticising a young lad like McCarthy even if, on the surface, it does look like he bailed out without a decent enough excuse.
I watched the week progress and a list of players drop out with some confusion. It was very odd to hear so many different versions of events.
How could any manager arrive at a situation just a week before a game without a full knowledge of who is available and who is missing?
All of this should have been done some time ago and I'm amazed that somebody hasn't been given the job of keeping a close eye on Ireland's players from fixture to fixture.
Problems are always best approached with right information and if Trapattoni doesn't have that, how can he make a proper judgement?
But for now, Trapattoni must deal with the players he has in front of him and I would have to say, if Keane cannot play, he has a big, big problem in Macedonia.
I think Shane Long is a good player who is improving all the time but he is not the man to lead Ireland's line. He is still too young to take on a task like that.
I also like the look of Simon Cox, but it would be a big ask for him to make his competitive debut in a game as important as this. My other big concern is Trapattoni's defence.
Without Richard Dunne, Trapattoni has to make do and by the looks of things, he will put John O'Shea and Darren O'Dea in at centreback and Kevin Kilbane and Paul McShane on the flanks.
O'Shea and Kilbane have done their stuff many times for Ireland and I would have no doubt about their credentials but I'm not so sure about McShane and O'Dea – good lads but prone to mistakes.
I'm not for a second overestimating the capabilities of a Macedonian team which gave Ireland a game in Dublin but didn't impress me that much.
If Trapattoni and his players hope to qualify for the Euro 2012 finals, this is the type of team which must be beaten home and away and anything less will leave Ireland struggling.
He has lost key men like Damien Duff through injury and Dunne through suspension but as long as he has Keane, these are losses he can cope with.
So it will be a nervous wait while the medics decide whether Keane is fit to play or not. With him, Ireland can win but without him, I would expect a draw.