Football/Soccer

Republic of Ireland will miss Robbie Keane: Stephen Ward

Stephen Ward is likely to be restored to Ireland's defence ahead of Monday night's World Cup qualifier against Serbia in Belgrade

STEPHEN Ward paid a heartfelt tribute to Robbie Keane following the striker's emotional farewell game against Oman on Wednesday night.

Ward, who played the second half, described Ireland's record goalscorer as a "model professional" and a "brilliant captain for his country".

"Obviously it was an emotional night and one I think a lot of the lads were very proud to be a part of,” said the Burnley defender.

“Robbie is not only a legend on the field, in terms of being in the squad, he is a great person. He has been unbelievable over the years. It was really nice to give him the send-off he really deserved."

Keane scored Ireland's second goal in the 4-0 win over Oman – his 68th in a senior international career that spanned 18 years.

Ward, who won his 37th cap against Oman, added: "He's a great character, he makes you feel right at home the minute you come into the squad. He is the same with every individual player.

“He always has time for people and is always asking how you get on at club level. He has been a model professional and a brilliant captain and player for his country."

Ward started out as a centre forward before dropping back to a more suited defensive role and knows a thing or two about the expectations placed on Keane's shoulders over the years.

“Obviously it's the hardest thing to do in football - put the ball in the back of the net. It's even harder to do at international level, so his record is absolutely incredible.

“I think it will last a very long time in this country… Most of the lads in the dressing room grew up watching him as a fan, so to get the chance to play with him was brilliant. He is going to be a big loss to the country."

Ward, who started three of Ireland's four Euro 2016 games, is expected to resume at left back in the Republic's 2018 World Cup Qualifier opener against Serbia on Monday night.

Robbie Brady started at left back against Oman but made way for Ward at the break. Brady is almost certain to be pushed back into midfield especially now that James McCarthy has been ruled out due to a groin injury.

"We're back to business and we are looking forward to it," said Ward.

“We will take a lot of confidence after the Euros going into what is going to be a tough game [against Serbia], but I'm sure come Monday we'll be ready to go. We've got plenty of days now to do our homework and get ourselves ready."

Meanwhile, Ward has welcomed the recruitment of countryman Jeff Hendrick after he was snapped up by Burnley on Wednesday night for an estimated £10m.

Hendrick flew to England to complete the deal on Wednesday and returned to Dublin and was used as a second half substitute against Oman.

The 24-year-old midfielder will boost Burnley's chances of staying in the English Premiership beyond this season.

And Ward revealed his club boss Sean Dyche asked him about Hendrick before making his move on transfer deadline day.

"I think he spoke for himself,” said Ward.

“They knew what they were getting. He asked me a couple of questions but there wasn't much to ask after the Euros.

"I think what you saw over the summer; he is obviously a big powerful presence in midfield. He is good on the ball and is somebody who can score goals.

“He's a great addition to our squad and he gives us an extra dimension. We've got two or three different types of midfielders now. Hopefully he can come in and make an impact."

Football/Soccer

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