Retiring Ireland legend Robbie Keane says he would not have swapped a major club honour for his international career.
The LA Galaxy striker will play for his country for the last time in tonight’s friendly with Oman at Lansdowne Road.
With 67 goals in 145 appearances, Keane is 15th on the all-time international goalscorers list, just one behind German legend Gerd Muller.
The 36-year-old Keane could overtake the man who won three European Cups with Bayern Munich in the 1970s, but he’d never change anything about his international career, that covered 18 years and three major finals.
“No way. No chance,” said Keane.
“I’ll miss everything about playing for Ireland, first and foremost, I’ll miss pulling that green jersey on. For me, more than anything, that’s been the highlight of my career.
“I’ve played for many clubs but the Ireland jersey always seemed to fit me the best. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ll miss it all. All I can do now is watch from the side and wish the team well. It’s going to be a little bit different for me, a bit surreal.”
Over 18 years have passed since Keane made his Ireland debut against the Czech Republic as a raw 17-year-old striker at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Since then he has played for nine clubs including Inter Milan, Leeds United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Celtic and Los Angeles Galaxy.
Although Keane is 13th in the Premier League’s all-time goalscoring charts, with 126 goals, he won just one major trophy in British football, the 2008 League Cup with Tottenham, but has since added three MLS Cups in the United States.
But the international scene was always what mattered most to the Dubliner, often to the annoyance of his club managers.
“I could never understand why people pulled out of games, I could never get my head around that and still to this day can’t,” he said, revealing he rejected requests by club managers to skip international duty.
“One thing about me, I’ve always turned up, I’ve always tried my best.
“Even with injuries, you get injections before games. And that’s just the love for Ireland and that’s the love for the country.”
Oman could become the 37th different country to be on the wrong side of a Keane strike, and he has history on his side with 42 of his 67 goals scored on home soil.
“I don’t care about Muller’s record or anyone, I’m chasing the next one because that’s what I’ve done since I was seven. I don’t know any different,” Keane said.
“I want to sign off with a goal. There is no way I’m going into this game half hearted.
“Just because it’s my last game, I’m not going to go into it thinking ‘I’ll enjoy the moment’, as soon as that whistle goes, I’ll want to win the game.”
He’s received good luck messages since announcing his retirement from David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Mick McCarthy, among others, but had special thanks to Ireland manager Martin O’Neill for asking him to play in Wednesday’s game.
“I spoke to him after the Euros and thanked him, Roy (Keane), everyone,” said Keane.
“I said I would announce it (retiring) in a few weeks and then I got the call from Martin to see if I would play this game as an appreciation to you and I said of course, no problem. I was delighted and humbled to have the opportunity.”
Keane is expecting an emotional night in front of a packed house in Dublin, for the game that comes just five days before the country’s World Cup 2018 qualification campaign opener in Serbia.
“It’s certainly going to be difficult to keep a dry eye, there is no question about it,” he admitted.
“It’s been my life since I was 17 years of age. Knowing on Thursday that it’s going to be the last time I’ve played for Ireland, waking up that morning is going to be very very strange for me. Even packing my bags for one last time was very weird, it’s the weirdest, strangest feeling I’ve ever had.”