Robbie Keane and Ronan O’Gara - Irish sporting green kings

Robbie Keane and Ronan O'Gara
They wear the same number in the green of Ireland and they haven’t gone away. Either of them.

On Saturday afternoon Robbie Keane bit the hand that once fed him -- and broke Mick McCarthy’s heart into the bargain -- with two goals as Aston Villa won at local rivals Wolves.

On Tuesday Ronan O’Gara addressed the rugby writers of Ireland in a Limerick hotel and made more than one bold statement.

He’s looking to play in the Six Nations championship that kicks-off for Ireland on Sunday, February 5.. And he’s looking to win it.

O’Gara even went so far as to suggest that Declan Kidney’s wounded World Cup players can win a second Grand Slam in three years when they tackle Wales, France, Italy, Scotland and last, but by no means least, England in this season’s fixtures.

The confidence in Rog’s voice took those present by surprise. Not so long ago, in New Zealand at the tail end of the summer, O’Gara was desponded after the abysmal defeat to Wales in the World Cup quarterfinal.

He spoke of falling out of love with the game of rugby that day as Wales flattered to deceive and Ireland flattered to defeat.

The Cork legend sort of hinted that he might go so far as to hang up his boots after a performance from rugby’s Boys in Green that just never seemed probable during the sensational win over Australia previously in the same tournament.

By Tuesday and the Limerick press conference, all was good with Team Rog once again and all, he promised, would be good for Ireland in the coming weeks.

We can only believe him. If one thing has been certain in Munster’s record breaking Heineken Cup campaign this season, it’s been O’Gara’s undoubted class.

Through to the quarterfinals as the top seeds in Europe, Munster have relied heavily on the rejuvenated number 10.
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He has scored last minute drop goals to win vital matches. He has kicked through for class acts like Dougie Howlett and new kid on the block Simon Zebo to score great tries.

He has been a revelation and an inspiration as the playmaker supreme in the most famous red shirt in Irish rugby.

Has he done enough to persuade his old provincial boss Declan Kidney to hand him the Irish jersey ahead of Jonathon Sexton against Wales on Sunday week? Only time will tell.

Sexton too has been magnificent of late at provincial level. Leinster missed the injured Sexton in Saturday’s win over Montpellier and missed the bonus point as well that cost them top seeding in the quarter-final draw.

Maybe Kidney will take note of Sexton’s injury, maybe he will opt for O’Gara’s experience and current form. Either way Ireland will have a decent number 10 in action next week and a decent chance of beating Wales in the season’s opener.

Ireland’s soccer team will have a decent number 10 in action in the European Championships this summer as well judging by Keane’s current form.

Bored by the elongated break between the old season and the new season in the MLS, Robbie has taken himself off to Aston Villa on loan for a couple of months.

He wants to stay fit courtesy of the Premier League and he wants to keep his eye in as a goal scorer. So far it is all going to plan for Ireland’s record scorer.

Keane didn’t score just one great goal at his first club Wolves on Saturday -- he scored two absolute crackers as Villa secured three points that meant a lot to them but did more damage than good to his former Irish boss McCarthy.

The Dubliner didn’t celebrate. He never does against his old clubs as a mark of respect and, chances are, those two goals on Saturday hurt him as much as Mick.

Robbie will know that Wolves are in a desperate fight against relegation now, so desperate that Twitter was alive with stories on Sunday night that Mick had been sacked on the back of that Villa defeat.

The stories proved unfounded and Mick was brave enough on Monday to acknowledge that he will be sacked soon if results don’t improve for his team.

How envious he must have been then of the Villa boss Alex McLeish as he enjoyed the fruits of Robbie Keane’s eye for goal?

Mick knows all about Robbie. As he pointed out in the build-up to the derby game, he handed Keano his first Irish cap and Robbie played in his last game as manager.

Along the way, they made it a World Cup finals together when Keane scored one of his most important goals ever, against Germany in Japan.

Ireland needs Keane to do that sort of business again in Poland this coming summer. On current evidence, like Ronan O’Gara, he is ready to meet the challenge.
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Sideline Views

GOLF: Padraig Harrington is now using a kicking coach by the name of Dave Alred to get him back to winning ways but rest easy, the Major winner isn’t going to kick his way back to glory on the greens. Alred, who has worked with Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Wilkinson in the past, is now a mind guru and promises to get Harrington ready for the Major battles ahead. I hope he can.

HURLING: Nice move by the Tipperary hurlers who will wear specially commissioned pink jerseys in a charity game this week to raise awareness for a local breast cancer charity. It’s a one-off by the way -- they’ll be back in their traditional blue and gold when they shape up to Kilkenny in what promises to be a fascinating All-Ireland series this summer.

GAA: The Dublin chairman Andy Kettles has called on the GAA to provide screening for all players after the sad death of an under 21 star during a training session with his club last Friday night. Ciaran Carr had just booked his 21st birthday party an hour before he collapsed during an indoor circuit session. Kettle’s call is a good one.

RACING: Spare a thought for the great Meath jockey Paul Carberry, who spends most of his life avoiding falls from horses but then breaks his collarbone on a skiing holiday last weekend. Carberry says he will be fit again in time for Cheltenham and a few trainers will be hopeful he can live up to that promise.

SOCCER: Not many Americans will know who Ollie Cahill is but one of the great League of Ireland footballers has just announced his retirement after spending last season in and out of the team at Bohs. Cahill will always be a legend as far as Cork City fans are concerned and rightly so.

SOCCER: How times can change in professional football and with such speed. Some Celtic fans were calling for Neil Lennon’s head a few months ago, now his team have gone on a 12 game winning streak and look more likely Scottish title winners than Rangers. Wonder how those fans feel now?

HERO OF THE WEEK

Irish rugby could do with a few new heroes after the disappointment of the World Cup quarterfinal defeat to Wales, and last weekend a young man put his hand up and grabbed a bit of attention as Munster hammered Northampton in the Heineken Cup. Winger Simon Zebo will play for the Irish Wolfhounds, the A team effectively, against England A this coming Saturday but don’t be surprised if he makes it into the senior side before the Six Nations season is done and dusted.

IDIOTS OF THE WEEK

A mass brawl is nothing new in the GAA, no matter what some might think, but the scale of the thuggery on view in a junior club All-Ireland semifinal game in Portlaoise last Sunday was quite something. Those involved have been moaning and groaning all week, even on national radio, when they really should be hanging their heads in shame for the disservice they did to their great game.

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