Mick McCarthy is full of praise for former Ireland striker and ex-assistant coach Robbie Keane, who gave the Boys in Green one of their most famous nights ever during the 2002 World Cup.
Keane, who is the most capped player and top goalscorer in Ireland’s history, fired home a 92nd-minute equaliser for McCarthy’s side against Germany to keep the dream alive in Japan & South Korea 18 years ago – only for penalty shootout heartache to strike against Spain in the knockout stages.
The prolific frontman went on to bag 68 goals for Ireland before hanging up his boots in 2018 and joining McCarthy’s coaching staff during the latter’s second spell in the hot seat.
Speaking to Ruby Walsh and Paddy Power on the latest episode of our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, McCarthy fondly recalled Keane’s exploits in training as a player and admitted he wouldn’t mind linking up again in the future – if the job was right!
“Robbie Keane was amazing. When people ask if one player can really make a difference in a team, he made a difference”, Big Mick said.
“He came up with the goals on a regular basis. If you think back to that Germany game in the 2002 World Cup, we were probably going out despite all the hard work that we had done, then Robbie tips up in the 92nd minute with the equaliser.
— FAIreland ⚽️?? (@FAIreland) June 5, 2016
He was amazing, right from an 18-year-old when he made his debut. Incredible.
“I read an article once about Rafael Nadal, with people saying that Nadal has that ability – when things are getting tough – to get that shot just when you want it. But, he said ‘No I don’t have that ability, I just practice and practice and practice’ and then it’s a surprise when those players don’t make that shot. That’s all it is, but Robbie had that innate talent as well”.
Having had time to reflect on the playing career of Robbie Keane, there really were a lot of highs.
– That goal against Germany in 2002
– That goal away to Italy in 2009
– That goal against France in the playoff in 2009
But this photo of him and Duffer still tops it. pic.twitter.com/LMq2i9Qa61
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) November 29, 2018
McCarthy also revealed to Paddy and Ruby that the former Tottenham striker was so good training would sometimes come to a standstill so his teammates could give Keane the acclaim he deserved.
“They used to applaud him in training. There were times when you would just have to clap him, even if you were the one that he had nutmegged and turned before putting it in the top corner.
He was just something special.
“The other fella who was special was, of course, Shay Given. He’d pull saves off that would get the lads applauding. I was lucky – I had some special players. Damien Duff, when he was firing, was another really, really good player.
“Roy Keane was an amazing player. We had him during the qualification campaign for the 2002 World Cup and I’m not going to knock him out of the team when I remember them because he deserves respect – because of the player he was and what he did for the team.
“We had some damn good players. When I look back at that squad, Ian Harte and Gary Kelly were playing for Leeds United, most of them were playing in the Premier League. Alright, there were some that might be in the Championship but pretty much they were Premier League footballers, and they were good Premier League footballers. They were recognised as good players.”
The Keane cartwheel
“I never had a go at Robbie Keane’s goal celebration myself, but I never scored enough goals to do it anyway. I played in an era when you used to just punch the air and run back while everyone else was jumping up and down,” said McCarthy.
I think Robbie is slightly embarrassed by that goal celebration now – we’ve discussed that!
“He got enough practice to make it good though. If you ever watch his Premier League goals, it’s like 10 episodes of The Crown with how many goals he’s scored! They just keep coming. It’s a shame it’s ended for him with the Republic of Ireland as well because he was great as an assistant to me. I hope he gets another job soon because he’s got so much to offer.
“It was a great help to have him bridge the gap with the players, because he had only just finished himself. He knew the players, and he had a good relationship with them. He certainly helped me with some of the lads, just because he knew them. He knew far more about them than I did.”
With Keane now embarking on a career in coaching, McCarthy is hoping he can tag along if Ireland’s record scorer picks up a job in an exciting location.
“I didn’t know anything about him as a coach, but he put sessions on and they were very good – and he was very insightful during games. You can’t spot everything during a game and I’ve got Terry Connor, but having Robbie as well helped no end. I was delighted to have him.
“I’m hoping he’s going to get the LA Galaxy job at some time and he’s going to need an elder assistant!”
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