By Jay Mwamba
“The Keane is dead. Long live the Keane,” a headline in the Guardian newspaper proclaimed the morning after Robbie Keane’s late equalizer had salvaged a 1-1 draw for the Republic against Germany last Wednesday.
With this clever play on words, the English daily noted the World Cup birth of a new Irish hero named Keane (Robbie) to succeed another, disgraced Keane (Roy).
For the young Leeds United forward, the goal — his 12th in 32 full internationals — marked the fulfillment of a childhood dream going back to 1990: to play and score in the finals.
“I’ve done that now and nobody can take that away from me,” Irish soccer’s new Keano said on the Leeds United website last week. “It’s a dream come true.”
It was a dream Keane had harbored since he was a 9-year-old watching his future international boss, Mick McCarthy, lead Ireland to the quarterfinals of the 1990 final on their World Cup debut.
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The 21-year-old Keane recalled Italia ’90, when his current Leeds boss David O’Leary’s penalty sent Ireland past Romania and into the quarterfinals, and recounted the sentiments of Irish skipper Steve Staunton last week on his goal against the Germans.
“Steve said to me, ‘Do you remember 1990, when you were a kid growing
up on the streets of Dublin watching O’Leary scoring that goal and
celebrating in the streets? That’s what people are doing now,’ ” Keane said before yesterday’s decisive Group E clash against Saudi Arabia.
“When he said that, it hit me a little bit, but it’s brilliant. I believe that we can go far, but we can’t get carried away with ourselves, just take each game as it comes.”
Martin Loughlan, Keane’s coach for five years as a junior in Dublin, remembers the relentless forward as a lad utterly consumed with football.
“He came down here when he was 11 and all he wanted to was play football and score goals,” Loughlan said. “I think the last season he played he scored 60 goals, which is a record in Dublin schoolboy football.
“One thing he always wanted to do was play in the World Cup, and he has done it and scored at the same time.”
Keane made his Irish international debut away to the Czech Republic early in
1998, at age 17. It wasn’t until his first Lansdowne Road appearance, however, that Irish fans got a close up glimpse of his enormous potential.
Ireland lost 2-0 to France ’98-bound Argentina on the occasion, but Keane stole the show, and even had the audacity to drop by the referee’s dressing room at halftime to demand better protection from the hard tackling Argentine defenders.
His first and second goals international goals came the following October against Malta in Dublin.
Keane’s international performances alerted English Premiership clubs to his talent and in 1999 he left then First Division Wolverhampton Wanderers for Coventry City in a _6 million deal.
With goals flowing for both Ireland and Coventry, some of Europe’s bigger clubs began sniffing around. Keane was soon on his way to Italy on the books of Inter Milan after a _13 million move.
The 19-year-old was an instant hit with the Inter fans, who nicknamed him “Baby Irish,” but with so much competition for places at the San Siro, he moved back to England with Leeds United, originally on loan.
Keane’s form for Ireland suffered amid the shuffle and he went more than a year without scoring before grabbing that vital second goal against Iran in the World Cup playoff first leg in Dublin last November.
The goal proved decisive as Ireland went down 1-0 in the return leg for a 2-1 aggregate victory and qualification for the 2002 finals.