The Republic of Ireland and Australia – a tale of two talismen

When Robbie Keane bid farewell to international football in August 2016, Republic of Ireland supporters knew that they may never see the likes of him in green again.

With 68 goals in 148 internationals, Keane sits 17th on the all-time scorers list at that level, and for a long time was the top marksman among active players.

It’s fair to say that Keane was nothing more than a bit part player in his final years but he was still a weapon off the bench and even a short cameo gave the Aviva Stadium crowd a lift.

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On the other side of the world, Australian football fans are currently going through a similar slow break up with their record goalscorer, Tim Cahill.

The 37-year-old rarely doesn’t play 90 minutes for his country these days but remains a constant in coach Ange Postecogolu’s squad.

How long will that remain the case? Cahill, like Keane, loves representing his country and if the powers that be still think he has something to offer then he will continue to pull on the green and gold.

The fear is in what comes after, when age finally catches up with Cahill and he physically can’t bring anything to the set up.

In the current World Cup qualifying campaign, Ireland have scored only nine goals in their eight games to date, and winger James McClean has three of those.

When Ireland made it to Euro 2016, they bagged 19 in their ten group games with Keane finding the net five times (though those goals were scored against minnows Gibraltar).

Cahill, meanwhile hasn’t scored for Australia since September last year, a run of ten games, but he only started three of those and played a maximum of 57 minutes.

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The most recent international break went a long way to determining which countries will take part in next year’s World Cup, and both Ireland and Australia have their work cut out to be on the plane to Russia.

The coaches – Martin O’Neill and Ange Postecoglou – have come under criticism from media and supporters in their respective countries for both results and style of play, though they couldn’t be further apart in their philosophies.

While O’Neill is largely negative in the way he sets up his team, Postecoglou prefers to retain possession and attack as much as possible, going so far as to implement a wild three at the back system that would be rarely seen outside Football Manager.

Ireland’s draw in Georgia on Saturday, when they recorded just 26% possession, was backed up with a 1-0 home defeat to Serbia which drops the team from second to third in the group.

They now must beat Moldova and Wales in October to stand a realistic chance of reaching the playoffs.

Meanwhile, a 2-0 defeat to Japan left the Socceroos needing favours to secure automatic qualification from Group B of the AFC’s third round.

However, a win for Saudi Arabia over Japan means both of those nations are heading to the World Cup while Australia now face Syria in a two-legged affair, with the winner then going up against the fourth place side from CONCACAF for a spot at the finals.

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The playing pools of both nations are limited at the moment, especially compared to the Irish side of the 2002 World Cup and the ‘Golden Generation’ of Socceroos who went to Germany four years later.

The options up front are few and far between; O’Neill chose strikers for the Georgia and Serbia games, and two of those – Jonathan Walters and Shane Long – hadn’t completed 90 minutes this season or scored a goal.

Sean Maguire, who excelled in the League of Ireland and is now starting for Preston North End in the English Championship, still hasn’t won favour with O’Neill.

For the Socceroos, Tomi Juric now leads the line in the role formerly occupied by Cahill and while his record of eight goals in 27 game is reasonable, the FC Luzern man has struggled at times due to injury and inconsistency.

The alternatives at Postecoglou’s disposal are Robbie Kruse who spent most of the year without a club and Jamie Maclaren, the 24-year-old who scored for fun in the A-League in recent seasons and is now finding his feet in 2. Bundesliga.

None of those players mentioned come close to having the ability of Keane and Cahill, and it’s hard to see where their direct replacements are going to come from.

Throw in the consistency of both – Keane played for Ireland for 19 years, Cahill is in year 14 – and you also lose the sheer presence of two terrace heroes who were the first names on the team sheet for the majority of their careers.

For now though both nations will just have to make do and hope that they have enough in their respective stocks to progress to Russia via the UEFA and AFC playoffs.

The Author

Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of Writes mostly on Premier League and A-League with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

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