The day looms ever closer when Robbie Keane must inevitably end his international career. The world’s highest scoring international player currently playing the game has been a great servant to Ireland but we must, at some stage, find a replacement.
It is difficult to select any member of the current Ireland squad who could replace Keane but here we take a look at five of the viable replacements for ‘Keano’ when he eventually does hand over the number 10 jersey.
5. David McGoldrick
Following last night’s performance against the USA, combined with his club performances, one must consider McGoldrick as a viable replacement for the Irish talisman.
Keane is a player known for his tireless work rate, and McGoldrick was easily as hard working as Keane up front against the US. He held up the ball well and was able to bring others into play.
His positional sense may not be nearly as good as Keane’s but his assists against the USA bode well for the future.
4. Daryl Murphy
Daryl Murphy is another option who could fill the void left by Keane once he inevitably retires from the international set up.
At 31, Murphy may not have much time left to really make an impact at international level but he showed glimpses of the natural talent he possesses and has implemented at club level last night against the US.
A snapshot of what he is capable of was, when in the first half he worked off the shoulder of McGoldrick and flicked a ball through the USA defence to set himself up for a close range shot which was brilliantly saved by the US keeper Bill Hamid.
Although he didn’t score against the US there are indications that he could be a realistic replacement. His 10 goals for Ipswich Town so far this term indicate that he is now arguably in the form of his career and now is the time to make the most of Murphy;s goalscoring ability.
3. Anthony Stokes
The Celtic frontman was played on the left side of midfield against the US, however in his preferred position the 26-year-old still has time to convince Ireland boss Martin O’Neill that he can play in a more central role.
If Ireland are to play with just one main striker up front, for example against Germany and Scotland, Stokes could be the man to fulfil this role in the future.
Although not a prolific goalscorer he has scored four goals this season for Celtic and offers Ireland a physical presence up front.
2. Jon Walters
A physical player like Stokes with a great engine, Walters will never stop hassling the oppositions defence and although he may not be a prolific goalscorer, only scoring five goals in 32 Premier League games last season and just two so far this term, as well as a handful for Ireland, the Stoke City forward offers Ireland a grafter, and when deployed out wide he guarantees a solidity on the wing.
If Walters is to play up front he could be dangerous combined with a player like Robbie Brady who has shown his quality from set pieces. Walters’ quality in the air combined with Brady’s sweet left foot could be something O’Neill may consider down the line.
1. Shane Long
The £12 million striker is the frontrunner to take on the mantle of Ireland’s best striker, something he failed to do in the most recent of Euro 2016 qualifiers against Scotland. However, this writer believes Long is not solely to blame for that performance with the striker working much better when played with a partner up front.
Long’s finishing ability hasn’t been quite up to scratch this season, being out shadowed at club level by Graziano Pelle. Long only has eleven goals for the Republic of Ireland and he will need to improve at international standard if he is going to take over from Keane.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Once Long gets going he can be a deadly finisher and is similar to Keane in the way he gets in behind defences, matched with great positional sense. However, Long knows he must step up a level if he is to come anywhere close to Keane’s outstanding record.
At present, Long is arguably Ireland’s best option aside from Keane and he is the the player who must take on the responsibility of replacing Ireland’s top striker.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena