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focused RICHARD ready to rumble

HE'S a focused and serious lad Richard Keogh and he will have a serious job to do in Celtic Park tomorrow. Doesn't he just know it!

Ask him about Chris Martin and Johnny Russell, team-mates at Derby who he could be facing when Ireland and Scotland line-up for the kick-off, good mates by the sound of things.

He didn't have to tell his boss Steve McClaren that all bets are off for this game and that training ground familiarity at Derby will be replaced by something else entirely.

"No, no. I think he knows," he said with a smile. "It's an important game and if you come up against someone you play with at your club, at the end of the day you want to win and if that means playing against one of my team-mates then so be it.

READY

"I'm playing for my country and I want to win and off the pitch we will be friends and team-mates again but once we cross that white line, all I want to do is win. If I am called upon I will be ready."

He will be called upon, that's a certainty. Marc Wilson's withdrawal shunted him up the pecking order. He has always been well regarded by Martin O'Neill.

"Marc Wilson getting injured was a blow to the squad. He's been in good form but I suppose that opens an opportunity for everyone else.

"If I'm called upon, I'm ready. It's going well at Derby, I've been in good form and if the manager needs me, I'm ready."

When he says that, there is no doubting him. His voice deepens when talks about playing for Ireland.

"When the manager made me captain for a friendly, it was the proudest moment of my career. It will probably never be beaten. I was thankful that he did that. He has shown faith in me and I'd like to think I have repaid that when I've played for my country."

Keogh got to wear the armband just days after the worst moment in his career during the promotion play-off final at Wembley when his mistake gifted Bobby Zamora the goal which gave QPR Premier League status.

It helped console the inconsolable. The images of a haunted Keogh after the game pulled at everyone's heartstrings and it was a sympathetic and cute bit of man management to give him a job to do.

"Everyone was great, the lads, the manager was absolutely brilliant with me, Roy, Gupps (Steve Guppy) and everyone, Séamus and Wally (Steve Walford), all the coaching staff were really great with me.

"They really picked me up. It was the best thing I did. It was a real low to experience it but they were great with me and really picked me. The best thing I could do was get back on the training pitch, get involved in games.

HELPED

"That was what was good for me and it's definitely helped me this season. I feel really on top of my game.

"I feel I'm hitting top form. I still feel there's more to come from me. I'm hitting hopefully the prime years of my career so I'm in a really good place. It's just an exciting time."

He will need to be at the top of his game for this one and he is fully aware of what is front of him. Keogh paid a visit to Parkhead for last season's Champions League outing against Ajax and liked what he saw.

"I was there to watch a Champions League game and what an atmosphere that was. It was against Ajax last year so I'm expecting the same again.

"What a great game, great atmosphere and great stadium to play in. Come Friday night, the atmosphere will be good and it's a game that could potentially be really big in the group.

"The lads are looking forward to it. We're in great spirits, there is a buzz about the camp and training has been good.

"That's credit to the manager and the coaching staff for bringing that together. It showed when we crossed that white line in Germany, we battled right to the end. It definitely makes a difference having that team spirit in the camp. What a great game this is to be involved in."

In a matter of a year, Derby County has become an important club for O'Neill. Jeff Hendrick and Cyrus Christie share a training ground there with Keogh.

"Jeff, I have really seen him (Christie) progress a lot as a player and there is a lot more to come from him and he is still learning. He has all the attributes to be a top, top player and I am really pleased for him.

"He is finding his form, finding what sort of player he is and what his game is about and there is a lot more to come so it's good.

"I'm really pleased for Cy. He's done well and I'm happy to see him in the squad. It will be a great experience for him. It's good for Derby too and I'm really pleased for Jeff.

"He's in great form, scored two good goals at the weekend, and has done well. It's great for Derby but importantly it's great for Ireland."

"I knew Cyrus qualified and he asked me and Jeff about it. We were pushing him to go for it.

"He even mentioned it when we were at Coventry and I think there were a few phone calls. Since he's gone to Derby, it got more serious and it's great for him."


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