Republic of Ireland assistant manager and former captain Roy Keane has called for current League of Ireland players to push for national team selection after former Dundalk duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle were both included in Ireland’s latest qualifying squad.
Horgan and Boyle, who both secured winter moves to Championship side Preston, were called up to Martin O’Neill’s 28-man squad for the November World Cup qualifier with Austria.
The Preston pair became just the second and third League of Ireland players to make the Irish squad last season after Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers was called into the side earlier last season for the Oman and Serbia games in August.
Keane believes that Dundalk’s success in both the League of Ireland and the Europa League should inspire domestic players to push for selection as the former Manchester United captain insists that both he and Ireland manager O’Neill are keeping a close eye on players’ performances.
“First and foremost Martin and myself enjoy going to matches and it’s certainly not a PR exercise,” Keane said at the launch of the 2017 League of Ireland season at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday.
“We go because we enjoy watching League of Ireland players, we enjoy looking at players who we think might and will get the opportunity to come into the senior squad, but I think the profile of the league has certainly helped with both Dundalk and Cork City, particularly with Dundalk having great success in Europe, I think it’s helped the profile.
“All of a sudden we are looking at League of Ireland players competing against some really good teams in Europe and when you’re watching these players your eyes don’t lie to you, if you’re watching a good player, you’re watching a good player. No matter what level he’s playing at.
“If you’re a player playing in the League of Ireland, and you’ve seen what happened with the lads who have got involved, then the first thing you’d ask yourself is ‘why can’t that be me?’”
Keane stressed that last year’s international trio of Rogers, Boyle and Horgan should be an inspiration to other players in the league and an example of how you can be rewarded internationally for strong performances domestically.
The former Sunderland manager also reinforced the point that the Ireland coaching team are desperate for young players to break through to the senior squad and that it’s important that the League of Ireland and their underage leagues play an important role in creating that pathway.
“The bigger thing from a coaching point of view, from someone who is working with the senior team, is that we’re desperate for the young lads to come through,” added Keane.
“I think if they are playing against really good players up and down the country then that can only be good because you can’t beat good competition.
“When you look at the players who have come through to the senior team, and the players that have come from the League of Ireland, at some stage they would have had to play U15/U16 football.
“This idea of playing in a national league and playing against teams from up and down the country, again, if you’re a decent player, you want that competition and it can only be good for you.”
Ireland will play against Wales next month at the Aviva Stadium while the League of Ireland season will kick-off next Friday night with defending League of Ireland champions Dundalk welcoming Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena