Martin O'Neill - Robbie Keane "is not getting any younger"

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Keane's days as an Ireland starter appear to be over
Keane's days as an Ireland starter appear to be over

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has admitted he had no option other than to replace skipper Robbie Keane at half-time after his latest uninspired showing against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium.

Keane was hauled off replaced by Shane Long at the interval in the vital Euro 2016 qualifier in Dublin, with the veteran marksman who has scored 67 times for his country now apparently destined to play the role of super-sub for what is left of his days in the national team.

Ireland improved in Keane's absence and got a deserved winner as Jonathan Walters opened up a four point gap over Scotland in Group D qualifying with just two games to go.

Keane's interval substitutions raised fresh question marks about LA Galaxy striker's ability to continue his legendary international career and O'Neill plunged the dagger into his ambitions with these comments.

"He (Keane) is our natural goalscorer, but I just didn’t think he had the energy there this evening and he is not getting any younger," stated O'Neill.

"I thought Shane Long, buoyed by his goal against Gibraltar, would come on and maybe find a way for us but as it turns out Jon Walters and Jeff Hendrick have done it for us.

Long now looks certain to get a start against Germany at the Aviva Stadium next month, with O'Neill accepting his side need to make huge improvements if they are to challenge reigning kings of international football.

“I said here in this press conference in June that there would be twists and turns because winning football matches is not easy, winning away from home is not easy," he added.

“We have a long way to go. We have two very, very difficult matches to play, against the world champions next. We might as well have a go.

“We need to find a win in two matches. We’ll have to play better for the whole game. Germany, with respect, are not only the best team in the group, they are world champions, and I’d say at this minute, possibly even the best side in Europe, so we will have to naturally do better for 90 minutes in the game.”