Ireland jersey meant most to Robbie Keane
ROBBIE KEANE will bow out of international football admitting none of the many jerseys he has worn have fitted him better than the green of the Republic of Ireland.
The 36-year-old striker will call time on his 18-year Ireland career in Wednesday night's friendly against Oman at the Aviva Stadium hoping to add to his tally of 67 goals on his 146th senior appearance for his country. He will do so with no regrets and having never lost the joy he felt the day he won his first cap.
The LA Galaxy frontman, who has also played for Wolves, Coventry, Inter Milan, Leeds, Tottenham, Liverpool, Celtic, West Ham and Aston Villa, said: "I have played for many, many teams, I have put many, many jerseys on, but the Irish one always seems to fit me the best.
"For me, it was always a comfort blanket, coming back with the national team. It's been my second home. I've had a lot of emotions in terms of my career - when my father died, which was very, very tough for me, about three days later, I was on a plane going to play a game; when my son was born, two hours later, I left the hospital in LA to come back and play for Ireland. I think that suggests to you that Ireland always [had] a very, very special place in my heart and it will continue to be that for a long, long time."
Keane was handed his international debut as a 17-year-old by Mick McCarthy against the Czech Republic in March 1998 and scored his first goals later the same year against Malta.
No other player has represented the Republic as many times or scored as many goals as the Tallaght-born striker, who made it to the finals of the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2012 and '16.
And his seven-year-old son Robert's disappointment at Ireland's exit in the last-16 in France this summer reminded him of his own burgeoning love for the game: "For everybody in the Euros, when you lose a game, it's very hard, but to see my son Robert in the crowd after, seven years-of-age and crying his eyes out was a moment for me," Keane said.
"I was exactly like that when I was a kid and it shows his true love for Ireland. That's exactly what I have and to go out and say thank you to the fans on Wednesday will be a special moment for me and something that I'll never forget.
"That 17-year-old kid growing up in Tallaght is still the same lad and still has that appreciation of putting that Ireland jersey on and that's something that will never go away from me."
Keane will bow out having endured his fair share of criticism, but he is philosophical about the opinions of his detractors: "That's football. You are going to get criticised sometimes, but all I did was want to do my best for the country and I think I have done that," he added.
"I have got no regrets whatsoever, but the outpouring of messages I have received from people, it's been incredible to be honest with you, and 67 goals in 145 caps - I think I did okay."
Keane announced his impending international retirement last week, but also signalled his intention to continue his club career, although the possibility of a return to the Ireland fold one day in a coaching capacity is an intriguing one.
He said: "I'm just a lad who loves playing football, so I'll continue to do that for as many years as possible.
"If you're asking me, down the road, would I like to be involved, of course. But certainly not for the time being. It's important for me now to focus on my club career for a couple more years and, after that, we'll see what happens."