‘A very clever player’ - Stephen Kenny explains Will Keane selection

Ireland manager says ‘we need to turn our draws into wins’ against Azerbaijan

The depth of Ireland's goal scoring problem is reflected by the selection of 28-year-old Wigan Athletic striker Will Keane.

"Will has been qualified for the last number of years," explained Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny at the squad announcement ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in Baku on October 9th. "He is good to watch, a very clever player, good awareness, good touch, an intelligent footballer and seems to be enjoying his football at Wigan and doing well.

“It is League One, admittedly, but every time we have gone to see him he has been impressive.”

Keane was considered by previous Ireland managers Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy yet both decided not to call him into the senior squad.


He has scored four goals in nine League One appearances this season, one more than Troy Parrott in the same division and two shy of Lincoln City's Anthony Scully, but at six foot two inches Keane offers a different dimension to the Irish attack.

Michael Keane, Will's twin brother who also came through the Manchester United academy, played Under-17 for Ireland before the Everton centre half declared for England, winning 12 caps under Gareth Southgate since 2017. Keane went the opposite route, playing under-21 for England under Stuart Pearce. Last season he scored 10 goals in the English third tier.

Shane Long, who was pulled from the Portugal match day squad with Covid, has missed out entirely, in what may prove the end of the 34-year-old's international career as he struggles to get any minutes for Southampton.

Chiedozie Ogbene returns from injury, and considering how Kenny has spoken about the Rotherham winger, the 24-year-old is due a second cap against Azerbaijan or home to Qatar three days later.

Enda Stevens is named despite Sheffield United ruling their left sided defender out of the international window in a tweet the club subsequently deleted.

Jason Knight also makes a welcome return - having missed the last international window due to an ankle injured sustained at training after a heavy tackle by Derby County manager Wayne Rooney - and the 20-year-old should slot into central midfield alongside Josh Cullen or Jeff Hendrick.

Hendrick has only played six minutes for Newcastle United in the Premier League while Cullen is an ever present for Belgium club Anderlecht.

Ireland captain Seamus Coleman (hamstring) and Dara O'Shea (ankle surgery) were not considered due to injury. Alan Browne and Jayson Molumby are suspended for the Azerbaijan match.

“The main statistic we’re looking for against Azerbaijan is to win,” said Kenny after a record of one victory from 16 games in charge, “we need to turn our draws into wins.”

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City on loan to Portsmouth), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).

Defenders: Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa on loan to Sheffield United), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest on loan to Charlton Athletic), Jamie McGrath (St Mirren), Jason Knight (Derby County).

Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), James Collins (Cardiff City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur on loan to MK Dons), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent