Martin O'Neill hails Republic of Ireland's new heroes

Martin O'Neill hails Republic of Ireland's new heroes

Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy ensured there is life after Robbie Keane as the Ireland came from behind in Serbia to secure a first point for their World Cup qualifying account.

Five days after 36-year-old Keane called time on his international career after 146 appearances and 68 goals, Ireland found new heroes when they needed them most.

Hendrick opened the scoring with just three minutes gone and after Filip Kostic and Dusan Tadic had put Serbia ahead at the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade, substitute Murphy levelled 10 minutes from time - like Hendrick, scoring for the first time in an Ireland shirt.

For O'Neill, who has challenged his new generation to take up Keane's mantle, that was almost as pleasing as a potentially priceless result.

Asked if it gave him hope for the future, the manager said: "Yes it does because Jeff Hendrick - never mind Daryl, but Jeff Hendrick will take great confidence from that as well.

"We scored a goal and I thought we were fine at half-time. Obviously, they got a lot of possession, particularly in the second half because we couldn't get the ball off them.

"They were fine, they were knocking it around, but we were in no serious danger at that stage. Then they score and they get a penalty, so we have come roaring back.

"We had one disallowed - it must have been very, very close - Shane Long made the goalkeeper make a great save and eventually, Daryl Murphy comes up with a blinding header and a point that we definitely deserved."

The game was played on a tricky surface which cut up badly after torrential rain in the city during the day, and although referee Viktor Kassai was happy to give the go-ahead after a brief inspection, O'Neill admitted the pitch had been far from ideal.

He said: "It was not really suitable. Big chunks were out of the pitch after 10 minutes of the game, and I'm not even sure that suited Serbia either, who can pass the ball pretty well."

Serbia head coach Slavoljub Muslin was pleased with his side's performance, if not the result on a night when he believed they emerged with less than they deserved.

He said: "We held the ball, we had more chances, we were the one attacking and we absolutely deserved more than one point.

"But that's football, that's what happens."

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