Stephen Ward leads praise as Robbie Keane bows out
STEPHEN Ward believes Robbie Keane's Republic of Ireland career may only be fully appreciated now that it is over.
The 36-year-old striker marked his 146th and final appearance for his country with his 68th international goal in Wednesday night's 4-0 friendly victory over Oman, and was granted a standing ovation as he bid an emotional farewell at the Aviva Stadium.
Although Keane's role has been reduced to that of supporting actor in recent seasons, his influence on and increasingly off the pitch has remained key, and the team-mates he leaves behind know just how much he will be missed.
Burnley defender Ward said: "Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone, I suppose, it is the old cliche.
"Everyone knows how good a player he has been, but looking back now in the next few months and few years, people will really realise we have had one of the international greats.
"It's some record, unbelievable, incredible, really. I think people will only appreciate it now that he's hung up his international boots.
"It's going to be very, very tough to beat him. He should be immensely proud and as a nation, we should be immensely proud that we have had a player of such quality in the last 20-odd years.
"He's an out-and-out captain, isn't he? Everyone who comes into the squad, he makes you feel at home, makes you feel really welcome, always has time to talk to you and ask how you are getting on at club level.
"He takes an interest in every player and he leads us with immense pride. When you have got someone like that at the head of your squad, it's a real plus and something we are all really proud to have."
Robbie Keane scores on his last game for Ireland . Of course he did , absolute legend . Thank you so much for all the memories rob .— Niall Horan (@NiallOfficial) August 31, 2016
Keeper Darren Randolph, who like most of the squad grew up watching Keane on television as he broke into the national team as a 17-year-old, was lost for superlatives.
He said: "I don't know if it's going to be repeated again - I don't think anyone will get close. But he has been brilliant. The caps and the goals speak for themselves, and at club level as well.
"He is going to be missed. It's strange, watching him on the TV at different tournaments when I was a young lad and then getting the chance to play alongside him...
"I don't know really what else to say that anyone else hasn't already said. He's been brilliant."
Derby full-back Cyrus Christie was just five years old when Keane pulled on the green shirt for the first time and was thrilled to have taken to the pitch with him as he bowed out in style.
Christie said: "To be involved in Robbie's last match and to grace the pitch with a player of his magnitude - you just look back at his career and what he's done, it's beyond amazing, so to be on the pitch in his last game and be involved with him for the last two to three years has been fantastic for me.
"He's a great person, a great character. On and off the pitch, he's a wonderful man."