Will Keane heaps praise on James McClean for making Irish transition easy
REPUBLIC of Ireland's new striker Will Keane has heaped praise on Wigan club-mate James McClean for helping him settle in quickly with his new international team-mates.
Twin brother of Michael, the Keane brothers switched allegiances – with Michael of Everton moving from Ireland to England at U17 level and Will, more recently, going in the opposite direction after lining out for the Three Lions up until the U20 grade.
The 28-year-old striker, who has scored seven goals for the League One leaders this season, was named in Ireland manager Stephen Kenny’s squad in September and is retained for the side’s final two World Cup qualifiers against Portugal in Dublin tomorrow night and Luxembourg on Sunday.
He was on Mick McCarthy’s radar in 2019 but is now edging closer to wearing the green jersey for the first time.
It helped that Kenny had attended a few of Wigan games to keep an eye on McClean’s form – and was sufficiently impressed with Keane’s performances during his visits.
Slightly nervous in meeting the Irish media on Monday afternoon, Keane was delighted to finally break into the international reckoning and has been helped in no small part by McClean.
“You won’t get anyone more patriotic than James,” Keane said.
“He lives and breathes Ireland and is a great professional as well. Seeing him come into Wigan, he sets his standards high and other players follow that. He’s a great person to have around the place.
“When he first heard that the manager was looking at me, he was telling me how much of a great experience it would be to represent the country. That made me want to achieve it even more.
“Coming into camp, he made me settle quicker. He’s a great guy who has achieved so much for the national team. You have to respect that; players want to get as many caps as him.”
In truth, Keane never had an overwhelming desire to play for Ireland. He was born and bred in Stockport, England.
He probably imagined a long and distinguished international career with England having been on Manchester United’s books for five years where he won the FA Youth Cup alongside Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison.
He made just two senior appearances for the Old Trafford giants in 2011 before a bad knee injury derailed his United prospects in 2012.
He accepted a series of loan moves and has gone on to have a good career with Hull City, Ipswich Town and now Wigan.
His father, Aidan, was adopted and brought up in Sligo before they left for England at the age of 10. So the Keane twins were always aware of their Irish roots, to such an extent that Michael chose to play for the Republic of Ireland at underage level before declaring for England.
A highly-rated striker in his youth, Will was only too happy to grasp the opportunity of playing senior international football for Ireland and to celebrate his father’s birthplace.
“My Dad’s Irish, he was born in Sligo,” the striker explained.
“He was raised there and was actually an orphan. He went to boarding school and was adopted, and moved to England when he was 10. When I was a younger lad I was approached by England first, and played in the youth age groups there.
“I was living there and that seemed to be the thing to do at the time. Then further down the line when I got the opportunity to come here it was something I really wanted to do.
“Unfortunately my Dad lost touch with his roots, for obvious reasons, as he was given away as a child, but to sort of reconnect with that and have the opportunity to represent Ireland is a massive honour and something I’m really proud of doing.
“It first came on the radar a few years ago, under Mick McCarthy. That’s when I declared for Ireland, I think he was considering me for selection then. That’s quite a few years ago now. Since the start of this season, the manager has been coming to the games and has been watching me, with James [McClean] being a regular, I think he had a couple of discussions with the manager as well.”
Keane’s father attended last month’s friendly against Qatar in Dublin, but he didn’t make the match-day squad. Callum Robinson and Adam Idah appear to be in the box seat in the Irish attack with Keane joining Troy Parrott, Chiedozie Ogbene, Daryl Horgan and Callum O’Dowda.