CLOSE TO THE EDGE; 7 DAYS TO GO COUNTDOWN TO IRELAND'S WORLD CUP CLASH WITH BELGIUM - Irwin and Keane Are Living Proof of the Fickle Nature of Soccer Life

Article excerpt

If ever the thirty-somethings of Irish football - and those close to it - needed World Cup inspiration, it was provided by two unsuspecting parties this week.

And both of them draped in the red and white of Manchester United. Assets on an Old Trafford balance sheet called Roy Keane and Denis Irwin.

Both will miss the Waterloo of a battle that will be Ireland's World Cup play-off against Belgium in Brussels next Saturday night.

And both have given those approaching the end of their international careers something to think about.

The two have served notice this week of the fickle nature of the beautiful game, which can offer success and happiness one minute then kick you up the arsenal with the severity of a Paul Bosvelt tackle the next.

Just over a month ago Roy Keane had the World Cup at his feet. Then came that tackle on Alf Inge Haaland and his future career will be decided once cruciate surgery carried out last Monday has settled down.

A little over 48 hours after Keane went under the knife a hatchet man from Holland decided to do his best surgeon's impression on Irwin's knee. Without the anaesthetic. Now both are out of the big match in Brussels. And those left behind to do battle must wonder about their World Cup fate.

For some the fall-out can be more permanent than for others.

There were, for example, unsubstantiated hints before the first leg of the play-offs that Andy Townsend will call it a day if Ireland lose to Belgium.

Andy hasn't said as much publicly. On the Monday before the 1-1 draw in Dublin he spoke openly and candidly about the future and his role, or lack of it, in it. …