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Cool heads needed in heat of battle

THE last time Robbie Keane played a game of football at Celtic Park, there two yellow cards and a goal in the first 20 minutes as the match referee was a busy man, booking eight players in all and sending another one off.

So the Serbian whistler Milorad Mazic could be in demand tonight as he takes charge of the Ireland-Scotland tie with the pre-match talking building this game up as an Old Firm match on an international level.

And in the white-hot heat of the battle, Ireland will need some cool heads and calm nerves, not easy with 60,000 baying voices. It's something that Robbie Keane is already aware of.

"We have experienced players who have played a lot of games at club level and for their country, you will notice before the game if people are getting too excited," says Keane, ready to win cap No 138 of his career.

"With the atmosphere and the importance of this game, the rivalry of both teams, I am sure that at times that will be the case but it's up to the senior players to get around the players and make sure they don't get too overwhelmed by the situation," added Keane, amid some concerns that younger members of the Irish squad could be overawed by the Celtic Park experience.

Equal

"The ground is the same for both teams, you have a lot of players who played here on numerous occasions, it's equal for both teams.

"But the players who haven't played here before will have to keep their feet firmly on the ground and not get too excited. We know exactly what we have to do and the job we have to do.

"Everyone is looking forward to it and these are the games you want to be involved in.

"We haven't had a competitive game against a rival like this in a while so it's certainly exciting."

Tonight is a big occasion for many of those involved. Irish players like Stephen Ward, James McClean and Richard Keogh have confessed to making pilgrimages to Celtic Park as fans to see that team in green and white and this evening they will do it for real in a vital Euro qualifier.

It's also a sort of homecoming for Keane, who had a brief but happy spell at Celtic - on loan back in 2010 - and the Tallaght man still remembers his arrival in Paradise.

Experience

"Coming from London, getting off that plane and coming to Celtic Park, with 5,000 people there, is one of the best feelings you could ever get as a player. Just walking out at Celtic Park and putting on that green and white jersey, from start to finish for me the experience was great, I enjoyed every minute of it," he says, Keane hoping that Parkhead could prove fruitful for him again as it was in 2010. He scored 16 goals in that spell with Celtic, six of them at Parkhead.

"In the past that has helped me so I hope that if I get the opportunity tomorrow it will be the case as well," he says of his record of scoring on his old stomping grounds.

"You don't go into games thinking that way but in the past I have been very, very lucky in that I scored a few goals at certain grounds that I have been at before, so I hope that's the case tonight, if I get the opportunity.

"Scoring goals as a striker, no matter where you are, you get that exciting feeling. But growing up watching Celtic, and having the privilege to play here and managing to score a few goals when I was here, was extra-special. So it would be nice if that was the case tonight."

Having been based in the US for three years now, Keane has not had occasion to play with or against many of the Scottish side involved tonight, but one bald-headed ball player stands out, former Celtic team-mate Scott Brown.

"When I was here he was brilliant," says Keane.

"He wears his heart on his sleeve, he gives everything he has for Celtic and for his country. That's clear to see when you see him playing and it will be the same tonight.

"I'm sure it will be no different tonight and he will be the same Scott, going around kicking people.

Tackle

"He doesn't get the credit he deserves as he is a good football player but he doesn't mind a tackle as well. He will be interesting to play against but off the field he's a great lad."

Keane comes into the game on form, and with a bit of fire in his belly. Asked if his place in the Ireland starting XI was under question because rivals for the forward places - such as Shane Long, Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy, who all scored for their clubs last weekend - Keane responded with something close to a death stare: "I scored on Sunday as well," he snapped.

"It's important for every player to score, whoever plays. Scoring at club level gives them confidence going into the game

"It's important for every striker to be scoring goals, it's only going to help the team. It's important they are scoring at club level as it gives them confidence going into the game," added Keane, stressing that his fitness was not a concern.

"I had a bit of an issue after the Germany game, I strained my hamstring and missed one of the games. But in the last four to five days of training it's been good and I played 90 minutes on Sunday so there are no issues."

IN GLASGOW


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