Roy Keane backs James McClean to enhance his reputation further against Austria
James McClean has been backed to further enhance his international reputation when the Republic of Ireland head into their World Cup qualifier with Austria on Sunday.
The 28-year-old West Brom midfielder has emerged as a genuine force during the Group D campaign with his two goals in Moldova and his winner over the Austrians at the Ernst Happel Stadium in November confirming his growing stature.
It has been a long road for McClean. He was a surprise inclusion in Giovanni Trapattoni's Euro 2012 finals squad just six months after making the breakthrough at Sunderland under current Ireland boss Martin O'Neill, but assistant Roy Keane has been impressed with his recent contributions.
Keane said: "He is becoming a better player. He certainly has had more of an impact with his performances for Ireland - probably not so much at club level, but for Ireland, he's turned into a really important player for us.
"He is quite experienced now - I think that James has got 50 games under his belt, 50 caps. He is probably maturing and using that experience that he has got now of international football a lot more in the games he is playing, whether it be his movement, he's obviously adding goals to his game, which is hugely important."
McClean won his 50th cap as captain in the 3-1 friendly defeat by Mexico in New Jersey last week, and did so playing in a unaccustomed left wing-back role in an experimental side.
But he produced an impressive cameo performance as a substitute in the 3-1 win over Uruguay last Sunday when he came off the bench to score a scintillating third goal, a carbon copy of his decisive strike in Vienna.
Keane said: "Any attacking player in a team has to have a goal in his locker and now with the one or two chances that he has got in the last few games...
"Whether be Austria away or even Uruguay, you are now fancying James to finish his chances off, whereas a few years ago, you probably didn't fancy him as much, so yes, he is maturing well."