Saturday 21 April 2018

Maguire can strike for boys in green – Kilbane

Preston forward backed to shine as Ireland look to rebuild

Kevin Kilbane at the launch of the Affidea Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon which will take place on August 12.
Kevin Kilbane at the launch of the Affidea Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon which will take place on August 12.

Cathal Dennehy

The next few months may not be pretty, nor are they likely to be successful, but never will results mean as little to Martin O'Neill as they do now.

Kevin Kilbane knows as much, having been there, done that and got 110 caps to prove it, but as the Republic of Ireland emerge from hibernation ahead of next week's friendly against Turkey, the 41-year-old is hoping the youthful squad can blossom in Antalya.

"As much as we'd love to see a winning Irish side, I think it's irrelevant," he says. "It's about giving players the game time, getting them on the pitch and getting them feeling fully confident.

"Some lads may take to it and be fully integrated straight away but others may take a little bit of time. There has to be realism in the fact that there isn't a lot of experience."

O'Neill named a 30-man provisional squad last week which includes just three strikers - Shane Long, Scott Hogan and Seán Maguire - but in Maguire, Kilbane sees a player with the capacity to carry the Irish attack.

The 23-year-old Kilkenny man has scored six times in his last six appearances for Preston North End, the kind of strike-rate sorely lacking in the Republic of Ireland side ever since Robbie Keane slipped away into international retirement in 2016.

After coming off the bench to make his international debut in the 2-0 victory over Moldova last October, Maguire was side-lined with a serious hamstring injury for three months but looked as dangerous as ever on his return to action in recent weeks, scoring in Preston's 2-1 defeat to Fulham last Saturday.

Kilbane is impressed by his attitude as much as his finishing skills: "You get the sense he's got that little bit of steel about him.

"He's got the sort of mentality now where he actually doesn't care who's around him. He's at an age where he looks fully confident and ready to keep going."

More than two decades have passed since Kilbane made his international debut against the Czech Republic, also a time when a deluge of young talent was making its way into the Irish panel after the side failed to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.

As such, he can empathise with the inexperienced players about to learn the ropes on the job.

"There was a lot of quality coming in at the same time and I think I was maybe a little bit intimidated," he says.

"I didn't feel fully confident and part of it until I'd got at least 10 caps. A lot of these lads haven't got that so that's where you've got to give them leeway. We can't expect too much from them too quickly."

There was, of course, one notable exception during Kilbane's early years - the teenager who went on to become the all-time leading goal-scorer.

"When Robbie came in, he was 17 and you'd have thought he'd played a hundred international games," says Kilbane.

"He still had that kid in him who was like, 'give me the ball, let me get into this game', and that enthusiasm rubbed off on others.

"He would have strops if he wasn't getting the ball but in general he brought the leadership in how demanding he was of others. I've never played with a player who was so demanding of team-mates."

But does Kilbane believe Maguire can develop into a similar striker?

Score

"He has a long way to go before he reaches that level, but he can certainly go forward and score goals for us.

"The worry was always where is the next Robbie going to come from? Shane Long has so many different attributes but his goal-scoring record is not at the level of Robbie Keane so we've wanted a player who can do it.

"The way things are going in Maguire's career, he doesn't need to be intimidated. He's almost at the level where he can come in and feel, 'yeah, I'm good enough, this is me'."

There are first-time call-ups for West Ham defender Declan Rice, Sheffield United full-back Enda Stevens, Manchester United goalkeeper Kieran O'Hara and Blackburn Rovers' Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams.

"Over the next year, it's about getting these new faces into the squad and get them fully confident of playing international football," says Kilbane.

"That might take longer than we all expect. Results may not go the way we would like but it is about looking ahead. It's got to be about the Euros now."

"I think they can all feel that they're part of something new together, and the team has to built off the back of that."

Irish Independent

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