memory lane

18 years ago today, 2 of Ireland's greatest ever players made their international debuts

Robbie Keane and Damien Duff both earned their first senior caps away to the Czech Republic in March 1998.

Ireland Team 25/3/1998 © Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Ireland's starting line-up that day. © Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

HAVING MISSED OUT on a place at the 1998 World Cup due to their two-legged play-off defeat to Belgium, Ireland travelled to Olomouc for a friendly with the Czech Republic on 25 March of that year.

With one eye on the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign, Mick McCarthy took the opportunity to inject some youth into the squad by picking a team with an average age of just 22.

Among them, 19-year-old Blackburn Rovers winger Damien Duff made his senior international debut in the starting line-up alongside Charlton midfielder Mark Kinsella and Leeds United full-back Alan Maybury.

The game, which wasn’t televised in Ireland, started brightly for the visitors with Gary Breen getting onto the end of Gareth Farrelly’s flick from a Gary Kelly corner to open the scoring.

Damien Duff/Radek Latal 25/3/1998 Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO A long-haired Duff. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

And at half-time, McCarthy opted to introduce a Dublin-born striker who had been making waves at Wolves as Robbie Keane, just 17 at the time, replaced Maybury for the second 45 minutes.

The result wouldn’t go Ireland’s way as the Czechs grabbed an equaliser through Vladamir Smicer (who would later join Liverpool) before substitute Edvard Lasota blasted home the winner with 15 minutes remaining.

However, it was a game of real significance as Rory Delap and Graham Kavanagh also came on to bring the list of debutants to six.

Robbie Keane Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Keane in possession. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

While Duff impressed throughout, it wouldn’t be until Keane’s home debut against Argentina a month later that he really got to show the Irish fans his true potential.

The pair would go onto become two of the country’s best servants and greatest ever players with 243 caps (and counting) between them.

18 years on, Duffer has only recently hung up his boots while Keane remains Ireland’s all-time record goalscorer, most capped player and current captain heading into Euro 2016.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Tomas Postulka, Lubos Kozel, Karel Rada, Radek Bejbl, Martin Cizeck (Edvard Lasota 71), Radoslav Latal (Tomas Vatova 85), Jiri Nemec, Karel Poborsky, Vladimir Smicer (Milan Fukal 89), Pavel Kuka (Vratislav Lokvenc 60), Jiri Novotny.

IRELAND: Shay Given, Alan Maybury (Robbie Keane 45), Kenny Cunningham, Gary Breen, Jeff Kenna, Mark Kinsella, Lee Carsley (Graham Kavanagh 85), Gareth Farrelly (Alan McLoughlin 61), Gary Kelly, Damien Duff (Rory Delap 74), David Connolly (Kevin Kilbane 85).

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