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'keane still has what it takes'

Mick McCarthy is amazed that Robbie Keane is still pulling on a green shirt and breaking international records.

Sixteen years ago in Olomouc, McCarthy gave the young striker his full debut against the Czech Republic with both men enjoying the highs and lows of international football over the years that followed.

While Keane's team-mates from the 2002 World Cup Finals have almost all called it a day, the current LA Galaxy striker has racked up the air-miles and caps while re-writing the record books.

Celtic Park tomorrow night will be another landmark in Keane's career, with the man that gave him his first taste of international football among the first to salute the achievements and commitment the striker has shown down the years.

"I gave Robbie his debut but I didn't think he was going to go on and become the record goalscorer," McCarthy admitted.

"To be honest, I thought he was going to retire after the European Championships, when Damien Duff and Shay Given did. I wondered if Robbie would go with them, especially with his move to America.

TALISMAN

"I didn't imagine after moving to America that he'd be tracking back to play but I have to say he's still Ireland's talisman. He loves playing so I shouldn't be surprised that he's still involved while he's fit."

Keane's career has overlapped some of the biggest names in Irish football history but while many of his team-mates have stepped down from international duty, in Keane's case it seems that the international stage has prolonged his club career.

While his club career has had its share of disappointments - notably his short-lived move to Liverpool and return to Spurs - the sight of a green jersey has always proved inspirational, even through challenging times for the international side.

Competition in the shape of players such as Kevin Doyle and Shane Long has spurred Keane on with managers ranging from Brian Kerr to Martin O'Neill and Giovanni Trapattoni, knowing that whatever the circumstances, one man can be relied on to lead the line.

"I was amazed when Robbie started in Germany," McCarthy added. "There were other good options for Martin to turn to but that gives you a measure of how Robbie is still rated. He was on his own away from home against the world champions.

"His game has evolved down the years but what he's always had a lovely touch on the ball. Obviously he's not as quick as he was but he can still play on the shoulder and give defenders a real hard time of it.

"He still has that knack of being in the right place and putting chances away. Lots of players can get into the right positions but don't know how to finish. Robbie is an ice-cold finisher and that's priceless. Just because someone reaches a certain age you can't go discarding them. Robbie still has the ability and desire and the records are spurring him on.

"I remember getting my first cap and wanting to get 10, then it was aiming for 25 and 50. These things keep you going and Robbie shows that enthusiasm.

LOVES PLAYING

"It might be an old cliché but he still loves playing and training the same as when he was running around the school-yard.

"When I was picking the team I always felt better when he was involved. And 12 years on from the World Cup, I think the other players are still feeling that way."

It's hard to look at any of the key men involved in tomorrow's match without finding a Keane link.

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee gave the teenager his debut in senior football at Wolves. Gordon Strachan paid Wolves £6m for Keane in 1999 but a year later was selling him on to Inter Milan for a healthy profit of £7m.

Shortly before kick-off, he'll exchange pleasantries with former Celtic team-mate Scott Brown before the real action finally gets underway under the floodlights and expectations of Glasgow's east end.

The stage could hardly be set up any better for the Ireland captain to dominate the headlines, with no-one willing him on more than McCarthy- 16 years on from capping the then precocious teenager for the first of many international appearances.


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