Kevin Kilbane has heaped praise on Alan Browne — who has now claimed 11 goals for Preston this season — and believes the Cork man could have an increasingly influential role to play for Ireland under Mick McCarthy.
“I’ve known him a long time, from when he came to Hull from Ringmahon on trial as a 16-year-old, and you knew straight away he had something,” said former international Kilbane.
“I remember the first day he came to training with the first team, he went into a 50-50 with Robbie Brady, who was an established story, and he went through him. Nick Barmby who was the manager, immediately went ‘Who’s that kid?’ He was only 16 but you knew straight away that he was going to have a career.
“And he’s found a position now at Preston. I think if you asked him two years ago could he play as a No 10 and score goals and get into double figures, he probably would have laughed at you. He would have said, ‘that’s not my natural position’.
“But his finishing, his technique, everything, is improving year on year. He’s a player who might get to 27 or 28 and we’ll be looking at as a main guy or a leader in our side. That’s what he’s got the ability to do. He’s growing season on season.
"Having seen him so much since he got into the Preston side, I’ve been impressed with how versatile he is. At the moment, he reminds me of Tim Cahill. Tim played where he had to always strive to get better. It sounds unfair when you say it but Tim wasn’t the greatest of footballers.
“I think Alan is technically better, but what Tim did, every day, he worked unbelievably hard and he had a knack of getting in the penalty area and getting goals.”
Looking at how Ireland are likely to approach things under Mick McCarthy, Kilbane said: “If Ireland are going to play 4-3-3, we’ll probably play with one holder. But I’ve always been in favour of having two sitters because I think — maybe not against Gibraltar — but if you’re going away from home and you need results, you need two good centre halves, two good sitters in front of them and a player like an Alan Browne who can get forward and get in positions off the striker.
“I’d personally think that’s the better way to go if you’re playing with a three.”
In terms of other midfield options for manager McCarthy, Kilbane is also encouraged by what he has seen recently of a resurgent Jeff Hendrick for Burnley. “I was really impressed with Jeff, it was the best I’ve seen him in a long time, playing on the right of midfield, a different role than we’d be familiar with him playing,” he said.
“He actually played on the left too, switching wings at half-time. I thought he was absolutely brilliant. He looked strong, he was carrying the ball well, he was geting in good positions. I was impressed with everything about his game, he looked fit, he looked hungry.
“He has everything that a midfielder needs: he can pass, he can run, he can tackle, he is good in the air, he’s got attributes that so many would kill for, and by his own admission, he’s not been consistently performing over the last few years.”
Kevin Kilbane was speaking at an event in Dublin to mark the resumption of Virgin Media Sport’s exclusive coverage of every Champions League and Europa league game on channel 400.
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