Roy Keane is expecting the Republic of Ireland’s record goalscorer Robbie Keane to be ready to face Germany if selected days after becoming a father.
The 35-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy striker was not due to arrive in Dublin until Tuesday evening after his wife Claudine gave birth to the couple’s second son on the other side of the Atlantic.
Asked if his former team-mate would be available for the showdown with Group D leaders Germany at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland’s assistant manager said: “Yes, why wouldn’t he be?
“He didn’t have the baby. Unless he’s breast-feeding he should be all right.”
Frontman Keane was part of the team which secured a famous 1-1 draw with the world champions courtesy of John O’Shea’s injury-time strike in Gelsenkirchen in October last year, and a repeat at the Aviva could have a major say in whether or not they make it to the finals in France next summer.
That result came amid an uncharacteristically slow start to the campaign by Joachim Low’s men, who have since put together a run of five successive qualifier victories.
However, while former Manchester United captain Keane admits they will be a different proposition this time around, he is confident Ireland have improved too.
He said: “I think we are a stronger team. Like you’d expect with any campaign, teams improve. We were still new to the job at the time and, yes, I think we are a better team.
“But certainly Germany’s form, as you would have expected – they were a bit sluggish at the start, but with all the qualities they have it was only a matter of time before they started winning matches and topped the group, no doubt.
“But we will be ready.”
Ireland go into an intensely difficult double-header – they face second-placed Poland in Warsaw on Sunday evening in their final game – knowing victory in just one of those matches will guarantee at least a third-place finish and a play-off spot.
However, they are equally aware that should Scotland, who currently trail them by four points, beat both the Poles and Gibraltar, even creditable draws against the Germans and in Warsaw will see them miss out.
O’Neill’s number two said: “I’ve said it before, this is what the players and this is what we are in the game for. It’s a big game, we are playing quality opposition. This is what it’s all about.”
The Republic have a series of selection headaches with midfielders Glenn Whelan and James McClean suspended and full-back Seamus Coleman, central defender Marc Wilson and playmaker Wes Hoolahan carrying knocks.
Cyrus Christie, who could yet deputise for hamstring victim Coleman, did train at Abbotstown on Tuesday morning but the management team will keep their collective fingers crossed as they await news on their walking wounded.
Meanwhile, former Aston Villa assistant boss Keane adopted a similar stance to that of O’Neill over Jack Grealish’s decision to opt to represent England rather than Ireland.
He had tried to persuade the 20-year-old to continue to play for the nation he has represented at age group levels up to Under-21 during their time together in the Midlands, but ultimately accepted his decision to chose the country of his birth.
O’Neill had earlier launched a stern defence of his handling of the situation, insisting he had not prostituted himself in a bid to land the youngster, and asked if everything had been done that could be done, Keane said: “Yes, absolutely. What more can you do?
“I think the manager did everything he could. Jack was already playing for Ireland and you were hoping that he’d continue. That’s life, you move on.”