Robbie Keane wants to kick-start Ireland’s economic recovery with qualification for the European Championships.
The LA Galaxy star will lead his country into tonight’s Euro 2012 play-off first leg clash in Estonia desperate to make next summer’s finals.
Keane was a fan when Jack Charlton’s team heralded the start of Ireland’s economic recovery with qualification for the World Cup finals in 1990 and ‘94.
He knows what it would mean to the country to make it to the big stage again and he’s ready to deliver.
“Listen, this could change the whole country, give the whole country a massive, massive boost, which it hasn’t had for a while,” stated Keane in Tallinn
“We have worked really, really hard to get where we are, so we can’t let this just slip away. I know for a fact every player is desperate for this.
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“It would mean everything. I have been fortunate to play in a World Cup, which was one of the best experiences of my life, but I haven’t played in a European Championships yet.
“Every time you watch one of the TV, you are just desperate to be there. We haven’t qualified for 20-odd years, so it would mean a hell of a lot to me and the whole country.
“This is a great opportunity for everyone. For players like myself, Shay Given and Richard Dunne, this could be our last opportunity, so we have to grab this with both hands.”
Still sore from the World Cup play-off defeat to France two years ago, Keane was to the point when asked how he feels watching major finals on TV when Ireland aren’t involved.
“It’s a pain in the a***, to be honest with you. It’s even hard to watch, especially the last World Cup, when we were that close,” added Ireland’s record goalscorer.
“This is what you play football for, this is why we are here. Playing the friendly games is great and playing for your country is the best experience you can have.
“But this is why you play football, to play in these big competitions, and we can’t let it slip away.”
Estonia are underdogs for the play-offs with tonight’s first leg at their 10,000 seat Le Coq Arena their best shot at an upset.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has urged his players not to underestimate the minnows and Keane has taken note.
He added: “Listen, as players, you don’t go into a game thinking you are going to draw, it’s impossible to do it.
“You have to treat every game the same. You have to respect your opponents - they are here for a reason. They have obviously done well and they are in the exact same situation as us.
“Of course, when you are playing teams like France who are the favourites and have got these world star players, Estonia don’t have that, but do we?
“We have to be serious about this match. You go into every game thinking you are going to win it, so we are going into this game thinking that we can win it because there is no reason why we can’t.
“We have the players to do it and we have the mentality to do it, so there’s no reason why we can’t do it. We go into every game with the same mentality, that we can win this and we can score goals.”