Ireland have missed me, says Keane

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The Independent Online

Roy Keane said yesterday that he felt the Republic of Ireland had missed him in the two years since he walked out on their World Cup preparations. The Manchester United captain, who marks his return to international football tonight against Romania in Dublin, was singularly defiant, saying: "Maybe we [Ireland] ran short of good, experienced players and I feel I can maybe bring that to the squad."

Roy Keane said yesterday that he felt the Republic of Ireland had missed him in the two years since he walked out on their World Cup preparations. The Manchester United captain, who marks his return to international football tonight against Romania in Dublin, was singularly defiant, saying: "Maybe we [Ireland] ran short of good, experienced players and I feel I can maybe bring that to the squad."

It was the first time that Keane, 32, had spoken publicly about his return. Although there was the occasional "Keano" stare at miscreant journalists, he appeared in good humour despite his persistent injury worries. He is expected to start, possibly alongside his soon-to-be United team-mate Liam Miller in midfield, even though he will continue to receive treatment for a dead leg after a blow to his thigh and knee in the FA Cup final.

Keane also made it clear - in continued defiance of his club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson - that he was available for friendly matches as well as the 2006 World Cup qualifiers. He said he felt he had "one World Cup left in him" and, when quizzed about his commitment, added: "I came over for the last match and I'm here today so hopefully that will answer your question."

Injury deprived him of a return against Poland last month and although Ireland have four matches in the next 10 days, he will only feature today because of previous family commitments. That is a situation accepted by Ireland's manager, Brian Kerr, who said: "He is one of our greatest ever players. We lost many of the senior players after the World Cup who were key players so I felt it was too many too quickly."

Kerr's wooing of Keane has taken almost 18 months. "All I said to Brian when I met him is that I would like to make myself available again for selection. I know there are no guarantees with that," said Keane who, much to Kerr's annoyance, had originally reneged on an agreement to return last year on medical grounds.

Keane was unabashed about his departure from the World Cup and the subsequent removal of the former manager Mick McCarthy. "Lots of things have changed and I felt I was fighting a losing battle when we reached the World Cup in Japan, and it was right for me not to be there because it was a waste of time," he said bluntly.

"I felt people didn't have the same targets as me and that is very frustrating because football is a tough game and everybody needs to be aiming for the right things. I didn't feel it was happening and it was frustrating.

"Of course I missed the matches, I have always been proud to play for my country, it was something I wanted to do since I was a kid and I have always seen it as an honour. I knew things had to change. I was never looking for perfection, but I was always looking for progress and I feel that has happened over the last year or two, and that is very important."

He has talked to his United colleague John O'Shea, he said, and been reassured. "The priority is to qualify and I felt the team maybe lacked experience," Keane added, although he admitted to doubts as to whether or not his presence would hinder the progress made by Kerr. Still, he decided in January to make his return and "fortunately the door was not shut".

Keane's presence overshadows the 50th cap, short of his 24th birthday, for that other Keane, Robbie, against a severely depleted Romanian side who lack six first-choice players.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable 4-4-2): Given (Newcastle United); Finnan (Liverpool), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Brien (Newcastle United), O'Shea (Manchester United); Miller (Celtic), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Holland (Charlton Athletic), Reid (Nottingham Forest); Morrison (Birmingham City), Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur).

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