Absence of Keane deprives Ireland of sense of purpose

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The Independent Football

As Roy Keane watched, from his home in Cheshire, the soulless, goalless draw between the Republic of Ireland and Poland, he probably had very different feelings from when he sat and viewed his country's previous two friendly matches.

It was those stirring encounters with Brazil and the Czech Republic that heightened Keane's desire to return to international football. On Wednesday he will have done well to stay awake.

Keane watched the game on Sky TV. The satellite station only decided to screen the match once Keane was included in the Irish squad. His withdrawal drained the final vestiges of importance for a game which very few of the Irish players wanted, and some had complained about, at such a key time of the season.

Ten others withdrew injured and the highlight of the week - in terms of usefulness - was the two hours back in Dublin when Keane joined in training. Matters were not helped because he did not speak to the media and left suddenly, which only fuelled suspicion. The Football Association of Ireland - hardly in the loop over Keane's return - was as ham-fisted as the player was hamstrung.

The deal was struck directly with Ireland's manager, Brian Kerr, and he will have been frustrated not to have got his man on the pitch. Nevertheless, one of the young players who did turn out, Blackburn Rovers' Steven Reid, spoke of the effect Keane had had.

"There was a real buzz in training when Roy came back into the squad, especially among the younger lads," Reid, one of the survivors from the last World Cup, said. "He is such an influential player and I think he will help the rest of us because his reputation can still intimidate the opposition. There is no doubt that he is still the biggest name in Ireland and I'm glad that he is back."

The XI who started here represent one of the youngest teams to play for Ireland - average age 25 - and there is no doubt Kerr is pushing towards a youthful approach having used 35 players now in his 14 games (one defeat). After all, the young ones do not have the same baggage over Keane.

Contrary to what had been first thought, England did send a scout. They are in the same World Cup qualifying group as Poland, but Ken Brown - the former Norwich City manager - will have gleaned little. The Poles are rebuilding and have some potentially useful players in midfield, notably Sebastian Mila and Miroslav Szymkowiak. But there is little to suggest they will improve upon their dismal record against England - having not beaten them in competition since 1973.

Reid, however, offered some words of warning. "Poland can certainly cause England some problems when they play them over here later this year," he said. "They have a lot of big strong lads to choose from and certainly pose an aerial threat."

By then Ireland will have moved on to their qualifying campaign. It is then that they will need Keane the most.