OpinionPaul McGrath

Sad to say that the time is up for our greatest ever goalscorer

Time's up: Robbie Keane should consider retiring from international football
Time's up: Robbie Keane should consider retiring from international football

It’s time for Robbie Keane to go. I hate to be the one to have to bring this issue up, but there is a shelf-life for every footballer and I fear that Ireland’s greatest-ever striker has reached the point where his has expired.

I know how he feels. I was there in 1995 and 1996 wondering why international centre-forwards had suddenly got faster and were starting to turn me inside out.
 
Of course they hadn’t got faster. Age had seen to it that it was my legs that were getting slower. It happens to every sportsman or woman, it is the one thing you cannot beat, no matter how talented you are. Robbie has been a wonderful servant to Irish football. 139 caps and 65 goals testify to that.
 
No one could have blamed him, when he got the transfer to LA Galaxy, if he’d said “that’s it, I’ve done my bit, it’s up to someone else now to get goals for Ireland”. Instead he decided to haul himself across the Atlantic every time Giovanni Trapattoni or Martin O’Neill wanted him and has continued to give everything to the cause.
 
But now I feel it is time for Martin to say to Robbie, “retire on your own terms or stay with us for the rest of the qualifiers, but you have earned the right to be told in advance that you won’t be a starter”.
 
For me, the problem with Robbie is not even that he can’t get those goals anymore – it is a tactical issue. Even ten years ago, when he was 24, Robbie could not play as a lone striker. He always worked best off a partner.
 
Now the problem for O’Neill is that to get the best out of Wes Hoolahan, the one Irish player who has the passing skills to unlock an international defence, he has to play Robbie alone up front and it is just not working.
 
If Robbie were to be used, in those awful words, as an impact sub, O’Neill has two options for the lone stiker role. Jon Walters can do it, he is big enough, strong enough and willing enough to batter a back-four for 75 minutes of any game. And he is skilful enough to hold up the ball and wait for the support to arrive from Hoolahan and the midfield. 
 
The other choice is Southampton’s Shane Long who is strong, if not as strong as Walters, but who has the extra asset of serious pace. He took his goal very well last Sunday, it was a very good finish. In fact, it was just the sort of thing Robbie would have done had he been the one to come on as a sub.
 
It pains me to have to go down this road of calling time on Robbie. But after last Sunday, the best we are going to do now is a playoff to get to Euro 2016 and we can afford no more mistakes, no more points dropped at home.
 
We have to attack in Dublin and we have to get it right – that means picking the players and the formation best suited to that end. The worst thing is that maybe we have to get a point off the Germans too, when the World Cup winners come to Dublin in October. That’s how hard it has just become to get to France next year.
 
Last Sunday was very annoying because Poland are not world-beaters. They didn’t create a single chance in the game through their own quality football.
 
There was one free header when the Irish defenders lost their marking at a corner, and there was the goal where two Irish errors gave the opening to Slawomir Peszko.
But Ireland created a goal, hit the Polish post, hit their crossbar and saw the visiting goalkeeper make two fine saves.
 
Even allowing for a poor opening phase, when the Irish players seemed intimidated by the occasion, we were the better team and should have won the match. Now it comes down to beating Scotland in June – if we don’t Ireland will not be at Euro 2016.
 
Maybe Robbie will score the winner in that one and make me eat my words. I’d be delighted if he could do just that.
 
For the sake of Irish football, I would be delighted to be proven wrong, I just don’t think I will be!