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given: you can bet on robbie for cool finish

FOUR and a half years have passed by since then but Robbie Keane surely still has a fond memory of his last game at Parkhead.

It was standard Old Firm fare - seven yellow cards, one red card and a memorable 2-1 for Keane's Celtic in the penultimate game of his spell on loan in Scotland.

And Shay Given, who never got to play a competitive game at Celtic Park, feels that Friday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland is tailor-made for Keane to once again stamp his class on a game and a campaign on that Parkhead stage.

Keane is likely - but not certain - to start against the Scots on Friday night, even Martin O'Neill admitting that the 34-year-old is not as fresh as he used to be.

And the sight of Shane Long scoring two Premier League goals last weekend will at least have given the Ireland boss some food for thought ahead of tomorrow's flight to Glasgow, though Long has yet to convince O'Neill, who had Long on the bench as an unused sub in the last two internationals.

Keane hasn't finished a game for Ireland in over a year - his last full 90 minutes was in the win over Kazakhstan 13 months ago - and his role in the starting XI has been questioned.

But while Given accepts that he's likely to be on the bench for Ireland on Friday, Given feels that Keane has to start.

"I'm not picking the team but I'm sure Robbie will be starting and raring to go," says Given.

"If we get a chance on Friday night, you'd want Robbie on the end of it, probably more than anyone. No disrespect to anyone else but he's got that coolness in front of goal.

"He's just a natural goalscorer. Even watching the Gibraltar game, people say 'it's only Gibraltar' but he's just a finisher and he's proven that over the years.

"I've seen clips and even some of the goals he's scored in the MLS and some of his set-up play from the other night - he set up three and scored one - he's really on top of his game.

"And now going back to Celtic, obviously Robbie's played there as well and every Irish player and fan would have a special affiliation with Celtic Football Club."

Given is one man who knows Parkhead well, as Celtic were his first senior club, before his move south to England and Given has been back there many times as a supporter since, but proper matches at Celtic Park were hard to come by.

"I was on the bench for one Old Firm game when I was 17 as well. I was a nervous wreck but I didn't get on thankfully," he joked.

"I had the win bonus spent in my head already, what I was going to do, but we lost 4-2 so I had to un-spend it in my head as well.

"It was a special atmosphere, growing up in Ireland and being involved in an Old Firm game, on the bench. Packie Bonner was playing and I was sub keeper at 17 so that was pretty special.

"Celtic Park is an unbelievable atmosphere when it gets going and I'm sure all the lads will be aware of that. It's going to be one of those games you want to play in because it's such a special game and such a special atmosphere. Everyone is going to be wanting to play."

Given would love to feature on Friday but his lack of first team football and David Forde's established position as No. 1 relegates Given to the bench, though he could feature in next week's friendly against the USA, Given even joking that he could try and "take out" US keeper Brad Guzan, the man who dislodged Given from the Villa side.

"You're always fighting to play but David's probably very much the Number One at the minute," Given says.

"But Keiren Westwood's pulled out with injury now so, if something happens, I've just got to work hard this week. Forde's 'Number One' but if something happens hopefully I'll be able to step in."

The longest-serving player in the Ireland squad, Give has played in trouble spots like Tehran, Tbilisi and Moscow and he feels that the current squad can ignore any possible targeting of James McCArthy and Aiden McGeady on Friday.

"It doesn't matter if there's going to be tension or not, or hatred or whatever you want to call it," says Given.

"We know that it can't affect what's going to happen on the pitch and we've got to focus on that. The manager and the coaching staff will have us well-drilled.

"We've got to blank that other stuff out whenever we play away in big games. It's what we do on the pitch that matters not really the atmosphere," added Given, stressing that Friday is not yet a must-win game.

"In an ideal world we'd like to win the game of course," he says.

"It's hard to talk about what might happen. Of course, we're away from home and they say if don't lose away from home and hopefully win your home games then you've got a really good chance of qualifying.

"Take that into consideration and, sitting here now today, you'd take the draw. But you don't know what's going to happen in the game. You may be coming off disappointed with a draw, you don't know.

"At the end of the day, we must not lose and, in a worst case scenario, get a draw."


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