Tonight in the Aviva Stadium, our country bids farewell to the greatest goalscorer we have ever produced. Robbie Keane, with 67 goals (and counting!) to his name on the international stage will take to the hallowed Lansdowne Road turf for the final time. He will probably rattle the net a few more times for good measure and old times’ sake.
What’s not to love?
Well, there is a manufactured and artificial stink surrounding the entire night. The final friendly days before a World Cup campaign should be all about tightening screws before the tests ahead.
Surely Euro 2016 would have been his perfect swan-song?
When this friendly was announced several months ago, it was far from inspiring. How the hell could a foregone conclusion against Oman draw the masses to the Aviva Stadium?
The following statement is delivered with no more authority than an educated guess, but it is likely that Keane was asked to hold off on retirement until tonight. The FAI would get 10,000 or so more bodies into the stadium, and Keane would get the perfect send-off; a few goals and a chance to say goodbye to the Green Army at home.
Again we ask… What’s not to love?
On Monday evening, the Republic of Ireland will take on Serbia away in a crucial World Cup qualifier. We say crucial, because it is crucial. Remember Georgia away two years ago when Aiden McGeady scored an injury-time winner? It ultimately gave the Boys in Green a play-off spot, and they took full advantage.
Were it not for the Everton winger’s late heroics, Germany, Bosnia, Sweden, Italy and France would probably never have happened.
Group D of the World Cup qualifiers is as competitive a group as we have ever experienced. While Ireland were blessed by not being paired with a true European powerhouse, the fact that there are four teams (Wales, Austria, Serbia and Ireland) all at a similar standard means that every point will count in this dog-fight.
Long story short; losing on Monday is not an option.
The Republic of Ireland squad have not played together since their Euro 2016 loss to France. Two and a half months is a long time to be apart, especially considering that they spent a portion of that time on holidays, and the majority in pre-season training.
Tonight is the one, and only, opportunity to gel and get a system in place before Monday. We find ourselves facing into a carnival atmosphere at the ground, celebrating the career of one of our greatest sons.
But can we really afford to focus on the past tonight, rather than on the tasks ahead? We’re sorry, but there is no time for sentiment.
Perhaps the country hasn’t come back down to earth following our French escapades in June. Oman at home and Serbia away are not sexy matches. Is that why there is not much hype?
Suddenly, you start to realise why we suffer from such atrocious tournament hangovers. We have failed to qualify for a second consecutive tournament in the last five attempts.
The Euro 2004 and World Cup 2014 campaigns were our weakest in recent times, Staunton-reign aside.
Heroes come and go. Sure, we can be sentimental and give one of our most celebrated heroes a great send-off. But that’s all for nothing if we are turning around in 18 months time, lamenting the failure to pick up a point in Serbia as the reason we are not making summer plans for Russia.
Thanks for everything, Robbie, but tonight should be about the future, not the past.