Blog: 'A night I'll never forget - goodbye Robbie Keane'

Blog: 'A night I'll never forget - goodbye Robbie Keane'

AS the DART arrived at Lansdowne Road station last Wednesday night, a tint of sorrow could be instantly felt in the cool Dublin air.

The surrounding residential streets radiated sadness amongst the anticipation, as thousands of fans trudged towards the stadium, contemplating the end of possibly the greatest Irish player ever.

Robbie Keane. Legend. Hero. King. These were just some of the descriptive words being used in the stands to hail the departing Dubliner as he graced the pitch for the last time in a green jersey against Oman.

The match-day programme had presented Keane in celebration across the front cover and entailed a run down of his greatest goals along with heartfelt accounts of his career which only added to the enormity of the occasion.

His dreaded but inevitable departure is certainly the end of an era, in which time, Irish fans have had the rare luxury of seeing the making of a true great.

Keane's Ireland career has seen him rack up 146 appearances and muster a goalscoring record which matches that of German legend, Gerd Muller, with 68 goals, a feat which puts the striker on an international football plateau.

Ironically, the Tallaght native began his final match against Oman, one short of Muller's record and after two near misses early on, he must have been thinking it was going to be one of those nights.

However, the stage was set for the iconic talisman and in the 30th minute as his illustrious brilliance shone like a beacon once again. The ball made its way through to Keane inside the box, the 36 year-old magically looped it over the hapless Oman defender, before sumptuously volleying it into the net for Ireland's second in a 4-0 rout.

Another goal of grandeur. Another milestone met. His renowned and eccentric overhead celebration which followed, only heightened the delight and excitement which had unfolded in the stands as renditions of "Keano! Keano!" began to circulate around the Aviva Stadium in a euphoric setting, evoking memories of all those crucial goals from years gone past.

As the midway interval was signalled, the big screens began to transmit a video salute to Keane with contributions from some of the biggest names in football. Pele and Steven Gerrard were among those honouring the legend which perhaps lays true to common belief that Keane leaves the Irish setup having firmly made his mark on world football.

And no wonder. Keane's desire to wear the green jersey has always been unrivalled. As he mentioned in his press conference before his last game, when his father died 12 years ago, he still flew to Albania to play for Ireland three days later in a European Championships qualifier.

Such commitment to the cause was on show right until the last seconds of his Ireland career. The Dubliner, cut a tired figure just before the break, but returned for the second-half against Oman, still clearly possessing the courage to continue.

In the 57th minute, however, the curtains were finally brought down on his 18-year long international career when he was substituted for Wes Hoolahan. The time had arrived for him to say goodbye and for the fans in return to bid farewell to their beloved bona fide footballing hero.

Keane's strut towards the sidelines with his hands in the air in salute was met with victorious rounds of applause from a standing appreciative crowd who acknowledged that they were witnessing something special.

At the end of the match, Keane was presented on the pitch and proffered a few final words.

"To the best fans in the world, I just want to say thank you very much and I wish you well."

A fitting farewell for a champion Irish sportsman. We may never see the like again. Goodbye Keano.