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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Keogh right man for job

Richard Keogh during Irish squad training at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Richard Keogh during Irish squad training at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

Richard Keogh says he has fought too hard in his career to give up his place at the heart of Ireland's central defence and says he is the man fit for the job against Austria on Sunday.

Keogh wasn't even in the Ireland squad and was an uncapped Derby County player when Ireland battled with Austria, unsuccessfully, in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup finals but as the race for Russia 2018 enters a key phase with Sunday's game against Austrian, Keogh is a key figure.

He started in central defence in the last two games at the Euro 2016 finals, in the first game of this qualifying campaign and contributed to the clean sheet in the most recent qualifier, at home to Wales.

Established

Keogh and Shane Duffy established a tidy partnership of late and while Duffy is certain to start on Sunday, Keogh is best-placed of the other contenders, like John O'Shea, John Egan, Alex Pearce, Kevin Long and Andy Boyle to play.

"I'd like to think that I have proven in games for my country that I am ready when called upon.

Shane Duffy gets to grips with Glenn Whelan during Ireland training. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Duffy gets to grips with Glenn Whelan during Ireland training. Photo: Sportsfile

"I have played in some big games and played well, so I will train hard, that's what I do, and the manager will make a decision on what he feels is the best to get a good result against Austria.

"I have done well for my country when called upon," says Keogh, admitting that there is pressure for places in that Irish defence.

"I think it's great but as a professional you back yourself to play, don't you? You just have to prove that and I am no different

"Ask any player and they'll want to play, not every player can, but as long as you shown you are good enough you have given yourself a chance," he added.

"I don't care about competition, I have had that throughout my career and I have worked for everything I have got, when you are in the squad you back yourself to play."

Martin O'Neill counts loyalty as one of his traits, which is why Darren Randolph will probably start on Sunday despite the question marks hanging over the Bray man after two indifferent displays in the recent friendly games.

O'Neill is also ruthless, though, as John O'Shea and Ciaran Clark discovered when they were dropped after the 3-0 loss to Belgium at Euro 2016, with the Duffy/Keogh axis planted into the side for the last group game, against Italy, and then that defeat to France in Lyon.

"That's the calibre of the squad, the manager and the coaching staff pick a team which they feel will get the best result for the team," Keogh says.

"At the Euros, I didn't start the first two games but I told the manager I'd be ready if he needed me and that's what I showed.

"You have to prove as a professional that you are right and ready. I train hard and keep myself right and if you get the nod you have to produce. So come Austria, I will be ready.

"In the games before I have proved myself, I love playing for my country, it's gone well for me in big games but it's also about what you do on the training pitch."

Austria are low on strikers and confidence for Sunday's game, having scored just three goals in their last four games, so Keogh and his fellow defenders may get a relatively quiet evening in Dublin 4 but Keogh is aware of the importance of the tie.

"Everything has been building up to this, the two friendly games have been nice to get pitch time for people but the focus has been on Austria, has been since we stepped into camp.

"We have to dust ourselves down now, recover well, train hard and focus on Austria as it's a hard game for us," he says.

Touched

"The manager has touched on it and we know how big the game is, we have had a great start and it's been a great year for Irish football, since the Euros, and we have carried that on, but nothing's finished yet," he says.

"We have to make sure we put points on the board and not worry about anyone else, only ourselves, and we'll hopefully qualify."

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