By Ciaran O’ Raghallaigh | Roving reporter
We have a bigger game to come, so we have to be clever as well.
Robbie Keane delivered the line as convincingly as he could at the pre-match press conference, where, as Ireland skipper he was rolled out to preview tonight’s game against England.
That ‘bigger game’, of course, is against the Faroe Islands on Friday week.
Robbie was talking rubbish, obviously.
Consider this – would Robbie have had words with the LA Galaxy if they didn’t let him hop over the Atlantic to play the team ranked 161 in the world? Does Piers Morgan like Robin van Persie?
No, there’s more to this game than next week’s World Cup qualifier – if only for the fact that Robbie Keane, his young son and his lingerie model wife Claudine could probably take three points from the Faroes.
There was never a doubt that, once fit, Keane would play tonight because, remarkably, he has never played against England at senior level.
The closest he got, it transpired this week, was sitting behind one of the goals in Lansdowne Road when some England fans decided to do some DIY on the West Stand in 1995.
It’s taken a long 18 years to decide that the teams are ready to face each other on the pitch.
“I think now the countries do get on well,” Keane said, summing up the Good Friday agreement in nine words.
“I was behind the goal in 1995 when everything happened and that was the first time I’d seen anything like that. It wasn’t nice to see and hopefully there won’t be a repeat of that ever again.”
“I think this is a bit long coming, to be totally honest with you. It should have happened a few years back, to try and put everything to bed that happened a long time ago.”
Roy Hodgson has made an appeal to England fans to shove any thoughts of offensive chanting under the duvet too. For reasons that must have bemused the San Marino fans, traveling England fans sang ‘No surrender to the IRA’ when the sides met in May, causing FIFA to give the FA a clip around the ear.
Just a tip lads – if you really want to annoy the Ireland fans, sing some Jedward or B*witched.
In truth, there’s an unbalanced feel to this game. Despite the minority that might sing about historical battles, England fans aren’t really feeling this game the same way Ireland fans are. Speaking to one in London yesterday, you could almost be forgiven for thinking the English are looking at this game in the same way the Irish will when the Faroes travel to Dublin next week. On the field too, there’s a not inconsiderable gap in quality.
Premier League and Champions League winners versus players who (bar John O’Shea) could only win those titles sitting in front of a TV, plugged into a games console. In fact, if it came to both sides having a ‘show us your medals’ face-off, Ireland would have to put Giovanni Trapattoni or Marco Tardelli front and centre.
The Italian might not ‘get’ this game as much as the fans or players, but victory over England would be a great addition for any Ireland manager, even one with a CV like Trap’s.
With Anthony Pilkington once more unavailable, he’s stuck with his usual 4-4-2, with Shane Long and Keane up front, and Aiden McGeady and Jon Walters expected to provide the ammunition from the wings.
Tonight will be a shop window for McGeady and James McCarthy, two players who are linked with a host of Premier League clubs, while David Forde and Sean St Ledger might also hope a good showing pricks some interest.
England’s willingness to scrap at this late stage of the season will be tested by Ireland’s energy and well-drilled setup, and it’s hard to envisage much between the sides at the final whistle.
Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, on paper at least, should put Ireland to the sword, but it will probably be a fourth draw in a row between the friendly enemies.