Robbie Keane trained with the Republic of Ireland squad here yesterday despite the tragic news that his cousin, Alan Harris, was the man killed in a sewer accident on Wednesday in nearby Portmarnock.
Another of his cousins, Steve Harris, was also overcome by fumes and is in a critical condition in hospital. The brothers were said to have worked in the drainage business for around 20 years.
The grim news is part of a punctuated build-up for Martin O’Neill’s squad as they prepare at their Malahide base north of Dublin to meet Scotland at Lansdowne Road tomorrow for their Group D Euro 2016 qualifier that is close to a must-win match for the Republic.
Keane, 34, is still expected to win his 140th Irish cap tomorrow at some point. Having just announced a contract extension with LA Galaxy, the former Tottenham striker had been the focus of fitness concerns. Keane has played just one complete 90 minutes during the last two months.
There was no suggestion yesterday morning that Keane would not start the match because of the tragedy. But it is another factor for O’Neill to consider when he is making his final selection.
Due to his lack of match practice, Keane was already thought more likely to be used as an impact substitute rather than a starter for tomorrow’s match.
His namesake, Roy – O’Neill’s assistant manager – was more forthcoming on the forward’s physical fitness than on the sad private news. Roy Keane acknowledged that Robbie has “had to deal with a lot”, but preferred to comment at greater length on the player’s physical well-being.
“Robbie’s trained today and Robbie’s a top professional player and he’ll get on with the job,” Roy Keane said. “If he starts on Saturday, I’m sure he won’t let us down, like he never has.
“From a physical point of view, he’s trying to get up to match speed. As I’ve said, for every international match, there is a situation with players who are lacking match-time and that would be the problem for Robbie.
“He’s trained OK today, obviously, he’s trained well as you’d expect. He’s an experienced player and we’d have to gauge him. He’d be pretty honest about where he is physically and whether he can start the game or not. We’ll look at that over the next few hours.
“He’s trained fine, and he’s had to deal with a lot, but as you know with Robbie, it doesn’t seem to affect him when he gets out on that pitch.”
Keane is the Republic of Ireland’s record goalscorer and at least one goal is required against Scotland. O’Neill’s alternatives are Southampton’s Shane Long, Stoke’s Jon Walters or Ipswich Town forward Daryl Murphy.
Long and Walters started the game in Glasgow between the two countries in November – won 1-0 by Scotland. Keane was a second-half substitute that night.
The defeat has left the fourth-placed Irish under greater pressure than the Scots, who lie one place above them. Germany and Poland are favourites to finish in the top two of Group D, which also features Georgia and Gibraltar.
The Irish build-up – featuring two goalless draws against Northern Ireland and England – has been overshadowed by the Fifa €5m (£3.6m) row and a minor car crash near Dublin in which Roy Keane and O’Neill were involved. As well as the Robbie Keane news yesterday, Bournemouth’s Harry Arter withdrew from the squad through injury.
By comparison, Scotland’s preparation has been untroubled. Gordon Strachan’s squad arrive in Dublin today and while he did not say it in a belligerent manner, Keane added: “At the moment, the feelgood factor seems to be with them [Scotland].
“They’ve got a lot of momentum and they’re getting a lot of plaudits. But when you look at the game [in Glasgow] there wasn’t much between us. Obviously Scotland are coming here no doubt in good spirits. We need to make sure they’re leaving Dublin in bad spirits.”Reuse content