We all knew the day would come eventually. Some of us, myself included, would have thought it would have been sooner than now. I’m sure many thought the announcement would have been made at the end of the qualifying campaign the national team is about to embark on.
However now we know for definite; August 31st 2016 was the last time any of us will see Robbie Keane play for the Republic of Ireland. (Unless he pulls a Shay Given and decides retirement is shite craic, but that seems unlikely). 146 caps and 68 goals. At the end of the day, it is a record that critics of the former captain have to stand back and admire.
I won’t get into why I think Robbie should have retired sooner, I’ve already done that in a previous podcast which you can listen to here. In that podcast we also covered the argument of “If Robbie wasn’t in the squad, where would the goals have come from?”. We passed this off as a case of, if he hadn’t have been there, someone would have stepped up to fill the gap. But now, Robbie isn’t here. This is no longer a time for a debate and a time to start analysing this squad in great detail.
Before last night’s match, in which Robbie scored once, Robbie Brady netted a free kick, and Super Jonny Walters got himself a brace, Keane had 67 goals and the rest of the squad combined had 60.
Our three main strikers now are Shane Long, Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy. All told, that trio have scored 28 goals, with Daryl Murphy yet to get on an international score sheet in 23 appearances.
Long averages a goal for Ireland, roughly, every four matches and Walters nets on average every three and a half. Robbie netted close to every two. Now look, I know, he hasn’t scored much the last few years but that’s still a good average when you think it’s only gone up due to that lack of goals.
Believe it or not, the next highest scorer on the list of active Republic of Ireland players other than those already mentioned is Robbie Brady with seven. “But what about Aiden McGeady, he’s been around long enough to surely have a good few goals” I hear three of you say. 85 caps, 5 goals. A goal for every 17 appearances. The same amount of goals as James McClean, and McClean has played 42 less matches. (Bet you wouldn’t have thought McClean has 43 caps. Well he does.)
At the moment, age is not something which is on our side. Shane Long is 29, Walters is 32, and Murphy is 33. Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney is the most likely to get the nod to step into the squad as the fourth striking option. He’s 28, and while having previously been called up to provisional squads, hasn’t made an appearance in a final matchday squad since his days of U21s football.
Realistically, our strikers haven’t got a lot of international football left in them. A qualifying campaign each, maybe two maximum. The scary thing is, if worst comes to worst and one of them ends up with an injury that means significant time on the sidelines, there’s no immediate replacement that stands out anywhere in the top two divisions of English football, where we take most of our players from.
Does that mean we have to look towards the League of Ireland? Should someone like David McMillan of Dundalk be given a chance to prove himself on the international stage? With 13 goals in 20 matches, he has already surpassed his total of 12 goals from 33 games last season. European football for Dundalk could be an absolute godsend for a man like McMillan. Although 27, he could be a viable option as a squad call up for provisional squads.
But then what about our under age squads? From the outside looking in, it doesn’t appear that we have a Marcus Rashford character who will break onto the scene on the biggest stage like something from a video game. Of the 11 recent call ups to Noel King’s U21 squad, just one is playing regular first team football at senior level; Sean Maguire of Cork City.
We could soon be facing a goal drought on the international stage, and it could be coming quicker than any of us are ready for.