Has Robbie Keane already played his last game for Ireland?
Yesterday, I pottered on about Martin O'Neill being right to throw sentimentality out the window and ignore calls to give Robbie Keane a Dublin send off against the Dutch simply for the sake of it. Then, news filtered through that Keane won't play against Belarus tonight and may even be an injury doubt for France and the sentimentality in me came rolling back.
Not getting a Dublin send-off is one thing but not getting any send-off at all is something completely different. It's a travesty and fans are rightly worried that they won't get another chance to see Robbie in an Ireland jersey but, even if the sentimentality is back, it doesn't change the fact that, in the short term, it's not really that important.
If Robbie doesn't play again, we'll no doubt look back with a serious amount of regret that Ireland's greatest ever performer wasn't given the ending he deserves but for now, with Euro 2016 on the horizon, there's more important things to worry about and, although plenty will disagree, it doesn't get much more important for Ireland than James McCarthy.
When the TV companies throw up Martin O'Neill's first choice line-up in a nice symmetrical graphic it looks something like this:
When we actually take to the field, it tends to look a bit more like this with Jon Walters popping up wherever he's needed like some kind of omnipotent superhero.
In an attacking sense, there's an awful lot of reliance on the full backs there and when it comes down to it, O'Neill may well decide that Brady is not the best defensive option but no matter what, the two central midfielders in the Irish system are absolutely crucial and while Hendrick is easily replaced by a fit Harry Arter, the same just can't be said for James McCarthy.
The Everton man should be fit for the Euros. He won't play against Belarus but he trained on his own last night and O'Neill confirmed that the diagnosis was at least looking better than it had been. But in the system we play, McCarthy is invaluable and heading into the Euros with him as an injury doubt is quite possibly the last thing we need.
He's not the player that Ireland fans thought he was going to be. In Scotland, he was an all action type to make things happen but as time has gone on, his game has changed and now he's the classic 'I'm always hearing about James McCarthy but I never actually see him do anything'. When you're that player in a poor team, it can be very difficult to turn things around. For Everton, McCarthy genuinely looks like he's doing shag all but when he's placed in that Ireland team and challenged to do the defensive work of two men, he can be a revelation.
Take the friendly against Slovakia for example. He's been accused in the past of not giving it his all for Ireland. Anyone who saw him in the Aviva that night knows just how nonsensical that argument is. McCarthy's ability to cover centrally and out-wide can be hypnotic at times. Granted, Hendrick does an adequate job of replicating that role on the other side but O'Neill has set things up so that the Everton midfielder is the one crucial part of his midfield plans (need we remind anyone of that performance against Germany?)
When O'Neill names his squad tonight, it will be a kick in the stomach if Robbie Keane isn't there but if we're to saunter through the game against Belarus only to find out that McCarthy's injury is worse than feared, it will be much more than a blow to sentiment. It's sounds strange to say it but we can easily get by without Robbie, the same can't be said for McCarthy.