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'If we can get a win and keep people healthy, that would be massive'

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UPBEAT: Callum Robinson

UPBEAT: Callum Robinson

SPORTSFILE

UPBEAT: Callum Robinson

Callum Robinson is a naturally upbeat character, yet he's aware that part of the brief for the Ireland squad this week is to try and put a smile on people's face.

It sounds like a glib thing to say, but the sentiment was delivered with sincerity by the 25-year-old. People in his life have spoken to him about the boost that football has given them during these strange times, with mental health a genuine concern.

"I would say football in general is keeping people healthy," he says, "You laugh and you (might say) there's no chance, but I know it is definitely helping people's heads, with them being at home a lot at the moment.

"Winter is coming as well and that's a bit of a downer with the virus. If we can get a win for the country for Thursday and put a smile on people's faces, that would be massive."

In a very different way, Robinson has come through an eventful year. After a big move to Sheffield United last summer, he was dispensed to West Brom on loan midway through the interrupted season and helped them gain promotion before eventually securing a permanent switch. He looks like making this top-flight breakthrough stick, bagging a brace against Chelsea after the restart with Slaven Bilic entrusting him with central responsibility.

But he acknowledges that even the joyful moments are surreal.

"The most difficult part about closed doors is that you score against Chelsea and there's no-one there to celebrate with, just the camera," he says, "For West Brom back in the Premier League, the fans would (normally) be roaring us on and celebrating and helping us on the way, which isn't happening at the moment.

"You take the fans for granted. Aston Villa beat Liverpool 7-2 at Villa Park.

"I was there (at Villa) before and that place would have been going off for hours. Obviously it's just sad that isn't happening at the moment, but we have to just keep working hard through these times."

Checking out of international duty was never an option. Robinson felt secure about travelling, with the Irish group staying in a bubble for their trips to Slovakia and Finland and the home game with Wales in between.

He remembers watching the 2017 playoff with Denmark as a Preston player and envying those thrust into the middle of such a high stakes match.

They included Cyrus Christie, who spoke in the aftermath of the crushing defeat to Denmark of sickening racist abuse he had received and suggested that black English-born players had been singled out for grief on occasion.

Messages

Robinson said he had received a few messages in the past but nothing on the level of Christie.

"When I first joined the squad, I had a few tweets but I haven't had anything face-to-face and I haven't heard anything from the crowd," he said.

"With Twitter, you never get a face on the other side of it. We had those tweets deleted as we want that kicked out. We are obviously playing for the country as we have Irish in us, so that doesn't make sense at all."

He did stress, however, that taking a knee before a match still matters to him because there's a chance it might lead to some young viewer somewhere asking questions and learning about the significance.

With Stephen Kenny admitting last week that Robinson's Chelsea brace had led to a staff discussion about whether he could do a job through the middle for Ireland, this might be a week where he truly announces himself to a new audience.