I met Robbie Keane in the early hours of a September morning in the lobby of a hotel in Stuttgart in 2006.
Myself and a few friends had travelled to Stuttgart for Steve Staunton’s first competitive match in charge against Germany; they lost 1-0.
By complete chance, the friend in charge of organising the trip had booked us into the same hotel as the team. Recipe for disaster? More like, recipe for a night I will never forget.
A few hours had passed since the team lost to Germany and but that was soon forgotten when we spotted Robbie Keane and Steve Carr huddled near a grand piano in the hotel lobby.
I must stress, Keane and Carr, were not drinking alcohol but I am afraid the same couldn’t be said for us. We looked like a bunch of latchikos who’d been let loose on the continent for the first time. You know the lads in Christy Moore’s ‘Joxter Goes to Stuttgart’?, well, we were them.
An Ireland fan from Dublin was sat at the piano and no matter what song anyone wanted to sing, the man on the piano could play it.
We’d consumed that much German beer we’d drank ourselves sober so there was no decision to be made. It was time to join Keane and Carr for a sing song and get the beers in.
Keane and Carr joined us in a rendition of ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ - they knew words better than we did and they really impressed us when they belted out ‘Dublin in the Rare Old Times’. There must have been about a dozen of us at the piano but we made one hell of a noise.
The sing song went on forever but when one Ireland fan stood on top of the piano and proceeded to dance, we were politely asked to retire to the seated area. That’s when I had a good old chin wag with our great captain and in my opinion, greatest ever Irish player, Robbie Keane.
I said to Keane I was disappointed his time at Leeds United didn’t work out and added that I’d high hopes for him for the season ahead. I told him I’d be expecting big points from him as I’d picked him for my fantasy football team for the 2006/07 season. Keane replied in typical Irish fashion - ‘I hope you had me last year when I scored a bag full.”
John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Clinton Morrison and Shay Given all joined us but the lads must have heard Staunton was on the war path because they all swiftly disappeared back to their rooms.
Except Sean St. Ledger (it was the first time he’d been brought into the squad). He walked around the lobby a little longer than the rest of them. Draped in an Irish tricolour and looking a little worse for wear, I think St. Ledger received a baptism of fire that night.
As I watched Keane get his 126 international cap and score his 57th, 58th and 59th international goals against the Faroe Islands on Friday evening it took me back to that night in Stuttgart.
For my generation growing up, Robbie Keane, was the Republic of Ireland.
When we needed a goal Keane has always been there, when we needed leadership on and off the pitch Keane has always been there, when we needed passion and pride Keane has always been there. People will utter the names Paul McGrath and Roy Keane but for me there’s only one Keaneo, there’s one captain fantastic and there’ll only ever be one Robbie Keane - he’s an Irish legend!