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Keane: We won’t pick young players because they’ve built a reputation, yet haven’t kicked a ball

Ireland’s number two wants to see the likes of Callum O’Dowda and Eoghan O’Connell push for places.

Keane at today's press conference.
Keane at today's press conference.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND ASSISTANT BOSS Roy Keane has challenged the next generation of young players to make the step up to senior level.

After the highs of Euro 2016, the World Cup qualifying campaign begins on Monday when the Boys in Green face Serbia at Belgrade’s Red Star Stadium.

The squad has lost two of its most experienced members, as Robbie Keane and Shay Given called time on their international careers in recent weeks.

At the other end of the spectrum, the likes of Jack Byrne (Manchester City – on-loan at Blackburn Rovers), Eoghan O’Connell (Celtic), Matt Doherty (Wolves) and Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City) have shown enough to suggest they deserve to be considered.

However, O’Dowda is the only one on that list included in the current squad and Martin O’Neill’s number two says those coming from U21 level will have to prove their worth.

“We just hope these young players continue to get regular football — whether it be O’Connell or O’Dowda,” Keane told the media at today’s press conference in Dublin.

“That will help greatly to get into the international team, particularly the lads that are playing at a higher level or Champions League football. There’s only benefits to that.

“We were the oldest squad (at the Euros), but we were also the most experienced. What will help us is the experienced lads who are still around. If you think for one second they’re going to be giving up their positions in the starting XI for any young player coming through, you’re sadly mistaken.

That’s what we want — competition for places and young players coming through. We will watch the U21s (v Slovenia) tonight and we’re still waiting for one or two from that group to kick on.

“Despite players building reputations before they have kicked a ball, they have got to go and earn it.

“One thing I like is that the manager won’t pick young players for the Irish senior team because they’ve built a reputation, yet haven’t kicked a ball.”

Callum O'Dowda Callum O'Dowda (centre) will hoping to make his mark on this squad during the upcoming campaign. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland kick off the road to Russia 2018 with arguably their toughest away trip and Keane admits the meeting with Serbia represents a massive challenge despite the fact they will be without the suspended Aleksander Kolarov of Man City and Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic.

“They’ve got a new manager and straight away what jumps out at you is that they’ve got some very good players,” he added.

“People might say they are missing one or two, but we’re missing one or two as well. It’s the start of a very difficult campaign against a very good team.

Away from home is always going to be difficult, but as much as I’d like to praise them and say they’ve got lots of good players, I’d like to remind people that so have we.

“It’ll be a tough game physically and technically as they have some very good players playing at some very good clubs.

“But that’s what we’re in the game for and that’s what makes breath — these big games for our country. We’re looking forward to it, bring it on.”

Here’s Keane’s repsonse to a journalist who asked about James McCarthy’s place at Everton earlier today:

Source: SS Sports one/YouTube

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Ben Blake

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