Teenage tyro earns accolades

 

Like the kids outside, the press corps couldn't get enough of the latest bit thing in a green jersey. "Waiting For Robbo" was the theme of the post-match interviews, with everybody bar the lads from security asked for their opinions on how the new boy had handled himself.

Jason McAteer paid the teenager what passes for the ultimate compliment across the water these days when he compared the Dubliner with his Liverpool team-mate, Michael Owen.

Niall Quinn paid a tribute of his own when he said the 18-year-old was the best young player he's ever been on a pitch with.

Overstatement by big Quinny? "Well, people said I went a bit over the top about him during the week but, really, he is as good as I've ever played with, better really.

"I can't speak highly enough of him. There's no bluff about him, no dishonesty and it's great for me because, the way he played out there tonight, even if I hadn't got a touch all night people would have said that the partnership was working."

Tony Cascarino, a late replacement for Quinn, was once again left to rue his failure to equal Frank Stapleton's Irish international record of 20 goals but Quinn was quick to put his old team-mate's chase into perspective. "He's close to it now, I'm not far behind and Frank holds it at the moment but, to be honest, it doesn't matter who ends up with it because we're only going to be keeping it warm for this lad."

As for his own performance, Quinn was happy. The Sunderland centre forward knows the clock is ticking on his international career and that, he insisted, helps him to savour every game for his country. "I'm enjoying myself and I think at this stage I owe that much to myself," he said, adding that Nobby Stiles's comments at last week's international awards - that he missed the game as soon as he had given it up - had renewed his motivation.

Motivation has not been lacking with Gary Breen but sometimes the opportunities to do well have not come his way and sometimes he has let them pass.

Last night, though, the Coventry City defender grabbed his chance with both hands and scored a goal that would have sent young Keane's admirers further into orbit. It was, he admitted, an uncharacteristic effort. He had not, for one, rounded a goalkeeper before and he was still surprised that he had attempted it this time out.

"Tonight was special for me, though. I was talking to my Nan (Mary Lynch in Kilkee, Co Clare) this afternoon and she said, `Score a goal for me', so I'm delighted to have gone and got one.

"Overall I was happy with the way it went too. It's been great to be back in the team. Playing for my country means the world to me, more than anything I could ever achieve at club level, and for it to go so well is wonderful."

If Breen's competitive spirit had been fine-tuned by a senior citizen in the west, Roy Keane was openly disappointed that his spirit hadn't been as stirred up as he would have liked by the opposition.

Our Roy wanted a contest. "Frankly I was a bit disappointed with them all right," he said. "We thought it would be a tougher game."

Robbie Keane, though, had turned that to his advantage, which at least pleased his namesake.

"It was only a matter of time for Robbie," said Roy Keane. "He'd had a couple of chances in his other games but this time he took them well and there'll be plenty more where they came from now."

As for the young upstart himself. Well, he had to less to say on the subject of Robbie Keane than those who had gone before him.

He was, he said, delighted with the way it had gone and, no, the prospect of setting a record as the youngest player to score for Ireland "never even crossed my mind".

The goals themselves were precious, though, and there was no hiding that.

"The first one was not exactly the best goal I ever scored," he recalled with a smile creeping across his face, "but it hit the back of the net and that was the main thing."

With the second, he had intended to set Niall Quinn on his way until a defender made a rash lunge and allowed the Wolverhampton wunderkind to push the ball through his legs and open up the box.

"For me, (that) was the pick of the bunch," he said.

As a second man-of-the-match award in five appearances suggested, he might have saved the pick-of-the-bunch title for himself.