A hugely damaging 5-2 European Championship qualifier defeat in Nicosia three years ago has etched itself into the darker side Irish football folklore, and has been one of the main topics of conversation leading up to a game which could see Giovanni Trapattoni’s side take a major step towards next summer’s finals in South Africa.
However, Keane, one of six men in the current squad who was involved in the debacle on 2006, insists it will not even cross his mind as he leads his side out with a bigger prize at stake in Nicosia on Saturday night (kick-off 7.30pm).
Keane said: “We are not going out in this game to get revenge for that game a few years ago, we are going out to win the game to qualify for the World Cup regardless of who it’s against.
“That game is long gone. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a distant memory. We focus on tomorrow’s game and focus on winning to get three points to qualify for the World Cup, it’s as simple as that.”
Ireland did, of course, beat the Cypriots 1-0 at Croke Park in October last year to claim three points from the total of 13 they have amassed from their seven games to date, although if the evidence of that night is anything to go by, they know they will be in for a tough test at the GSP Stadium.
But Trapattoni has been at pains to remind his players that one dreadful day on the island was an isolated blackspot, a theme his captain picked up.
Keane said: “The players are quite bored speaking about it. You have to judge us over how many games we have played against Cyprus and how many times we have won.
“We have most of the time come out on top. That was a one-off game and the last game, we beat them, so I would prefer to focus on that than that game a few years ago.”
Victory on Saturday night would all but guarantee Ireland a play-off spot at least and maintain their chances of pipping world champions Italy to automatic qualification, while a draw – the result they have achieved in their last three away games in the campaign, against Montenegro, Italy and Bulgaria – would be a creditable return.
The finals are within reach, but still agonisingly short of the Republic’s grasp, and that has only increased their determination to finish the job.
Keane said: “You can smell it now. There are only three games to go and a lot of the players can sense that it’s fairly close and we have got a great opportunity.
“There are a lot of players in the dressing room who haven’t played in a World Cup.
“I have been fortunate enough to play in one, so I know how it feels, but there are a lot of players in that dressing room are desperate to play in the World Cup.
“We are down to the nitty-gritty of stuff now and it’s vitally important that we get points on the board, starting off tomorrow.”
Trapattoni received a boost with the news Preston defender Sean St Ledger, who had been a doubt with a knee injury, completed training at the stadium tonight with no problems.
He will start alongside Richard Dunne in central defence if he suffers no further reaction overnight to the injury which has hampered him all week.
If he does not make it, right-back John O’Shea will move into the middle and Fulham’s Stephen Kelly will take his place.
But it is ahead of them that the Italian has taken perhaps his most difficult decision, opting to start with Hull winger Stephen Hunt instead of Celtic’s in-form Aiden McGeady, conscious of the threat represented by Cyprus wide-man Efstathios Aloneftis.
Meanwhile, both Trapattoni and Keane played down a misunderstanding on the chartered five-hour flight to Cyprus when five members of the squad had to sit in economy seats because there was not enough room in business class with the rest of their team-mates.
Keane said: “It was a misunderstanding. It wasn’t ideal, but it’s something that’s been addressed and something that will be sorted out.
“But it’s not a big deal, I wouldn’t get too carried away about it.”