‘Few play­ers had his will to suc­ceed’

As Rob­bie Keane brings down the cur­tain on his play­ing days, Colin Young talks to three men who all had sig­nif­i­cant roles in the striker’s ca­reer

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER -


Keane’s strike part­ner for Re­pub­lic of Ire­land 1998-2002

IT sounds easy to say it now but it was clear from his first train­ing ses­sions that Rob­bie was go­ing to be spe­cial. Some­times you see young lads and they are con­fi­dent but they can’t walk the walk. Rob­bie could talk the talk and walk the walk. This kid was nut­meg­ging sea­soned in­ter­na­tion­als, leav­ing them on the ground and pat­ting them on the head as he was run­ning by them.

He was funny and full of life and quickly be­came such an in­te­gral part of the Ire­land set-up. Be­fore you knew it, this cheeky lit­tle char­ac­ter was the fella who was wear­ing our cen­tre-for­ward’s jersey.

He was ev­ery­thing to every­one, and al­ways in the mid­dle of things, al­ways hav­ing fun in the camp, whether it was singing or jok­ing at the ex­pense of the kit man or the physio or one of the other play­ers, but no one ever fell out with him. It is an amaz­ing gift to be able to cre­ate so much fun, be­lit­tle peo­ple and take the mickey out of them and yet they still like you.

And ev­ery time he played, he was putting the ball in the back of the net. He scored two goals against Malta in his fifth game and I was asked in an in­ter­view af­ter­wards if I was pleased for Rob­bie. I said, not only was I pleased for him but that it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore he broke the Ire­land goalscor­ing record. At the time it was 20 but I’d said then Rob­bie could score 30, 40 or even 50 and I got ab­so­lutely ridiculed for it.

Rob­bie Keane also came at the right time in my ca­reer. I was com­ing back from my sec­ond cru­ci­ate, suf­fered in the first sea­son at Sun­der­land. I had missed most of the ’96/’97 sea­son and in the fol­low­ing sum­mer, Peter Reid signed Kevin Phillips; Rob­bie Keane made his in­ter­na­tional de­but in ’98. Week in, week out, I had Kevin Phillips at Sun­der­land and Rob­bie ev­ery month or so for Ire­land. How priv­i­leged was I? A Golden Boot win­ner and Ire­land’s great­est ever goalscorer, and me, a bloke in his 30s, hob­bling round and en­joy­ing a lovely In­dian sum­mer thanks to those two.


Ire­land as­sis­tant man­ager to Mick McCarthy 1997-2002

THE first time I came across Rob­bie, I was pick­ing my first un­der 21 team for Ire­land, I think it was against Rus­sia, and I was go­ing through the names with Mick. Shay would play, Ian Harte, Kev Kil­bane. We came to Rob­bie. “You can’t have him,” Mick said. And that was that. From a very early stage, Mick had iden­ti­fied that he was good enough to be with the se­nior squad. Damien Duff was the same.

Mick de­cided Rob­bie and Duf­fer were a threat and played them to­gether and if we needed him Niall Quinn was a foil for the pair of them which just seemed to hap­pen nat­u­rally. The whole thing fell into place.

Peo­ple who take part in train­ing ev­ery­day can see other things in play­ers like him that the pub­lic don’t get see which ne­ces­si­tates their place in the team. We saw enough in train­ing to play him and then you hope that he can repli­cate it on the big stage, which he did. And to score the amount of goals he did for club and coun­try was phe­nom­e­nal, es­pe­cially with the Ir­ish team. He would score against the big na­tions as well as the lesser teams. He scored big goals but the main thing was that he turned up and he wanted to play. He loved play­ing, as

99 per cent play­ers do. He just loves play­ing foot­ball and he wanted to turn up and play for Ire­land, even if he was not scor­ing goals.

He was al­ways chirpy, al­ways at the front, see­ing what is go­ing on or be­ing at the heart of it. You would never ex­pect to see Rob­bie hid­ing at the back.

Fun­nily enough, I came across him re­cently when we went over to Malahide to play golf for my eldest lad’s 40th and ended up in Gib­ney’s. Guess who is in there, mind­ing his own busi­ness, but Rob­bie. I hadn’t seen him for yonks and we soon got talk­ing about foot­ball and the good old days with Ire­land.

He was just back from In­dia where he said he had briefly been given a go at man­age­ment and that he had a real taste for it. I said, ‘Fair enough, but as long as you have the right peo­ple around you and good peo­ple to give you a hand.’

It was in­ter­est­ing hear­ing him talk­ing as a man­ager, not the player. I have come across a few of the lads, like Rob­bie, who have gone into coach­ing and it is great to see. And I told them they are go­ing to see life from the other side of the fence and maybe they will ap­pre­ci­ate all the prob­lems they gave me and how we han­dled them. They were a great set of lads, but I hope their play­ers are giv­ing them the same prob­lems.


Sec­re­tary of Crum­lin United 1991 (when Keane joined) to present day

ROB­BIE’S par­ents were orig­i­nally from Crum­lin and after mov­ing to Tal­laght, they brought him back to the club at 11 when he’d turned the age to play. Jimmy Loughran was the coach and Larry Fox was the man­ager of his teams from 11 to 16.

He just scored goals for fun but the thing that stood out to me was his men­tal­ity and mind­set. He was just one of those kids who des­per­ately wanted to be a foot­baller, that was all he was ever go­ing to do and noth­ing was go­ing to stop him. We have all seen a lot of kids with the abil­ity but not many have the nous and de­ter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed. He had that willpower and he was also very good in front of goal, al­ways scored and was de­ter­mined to achieve. He was in a re­ally good side with play­ers like Stephen McPhail, Ja­son Gavin and Richard Dunne.

Rob­bie was the one who re­ally stood out as the striker, full of tricks, al­ways do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent on the ball, never pre­dictable. When he had it you would never quite know what he was go­ing to do with the ball, only that it would prob­a­bly end in the back of the net.

I re­mem­ber the un­der 14 Kennedy Cup and he didn’t make the squad be­cause he was too small but it didn’t faze him, he just kept go­ing, kept go­ing.

When he got his break with the in­ter­na­tional un­der 16 side, he wasn’t picked in the orig­i­nal start­ing XI but in the last train­ing ses­sion, the lad who was se­lected got in­jured. So Rob­bie got in, made his de­but, scored two and never looked back.

He left us at 16 and he could’ve gone to Leeds while Liver­pool were also sniff­ing around but he went to Wolves be­cause he knew he would have a bet­ter chance of play­ing there than any­where else and, sure enough, within two years he was in the first team.

That was 22 years ago but he has never for­got­ten us and Crum­lin United is al­ways up there when he talks about his ca­reer. This week, when he made his an­nounce­ment, our club was named along­side world-renowned clubs like Liver­pool, Tot­ten­ham, Leeds, In­ter Mi­lan, LA Galaxy.

We have pro­gressed too, with great fa­cil­i­ties, re­ally good teams and he has been a fan­tas­tic am­bas­sador. Last year we started the Un­der 12 Rob­bie Keane Academy Cup and his name helped at­tract teams like Ju­ven­tus, Ev­er­ton, Leeds, Cardiff and Burn­ley and we will be run­ning it again this year. When you men­tion Rob­bie Keane’s name, teams, and spon­sors, want to get in­volved.

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