The battle between two of Mick McCarthy’s former sharp-shooters, Robbie Keane and Steven Fletcher, could prove decisive in Friday’s Euro 2016 Group D tie at Celtic Park.
While the former Ireland manager is thrilled to see a 34-year-old Keane defy even his forecast by continuing to operate at international level, he’s cautioned the visitors about the threat posed by Fletcher.
Although Fletcher’s return of just one goal at international level is a stratosphere away from Keane’s 65, the Scotland striker does hold a the fillip of current Premier League pedigree over Keane.
In a game of such fine margins, McCarthy can see the outcome hinging on their respective inputs within the powder-keg atmosphere of the occasion.
“When I gave Robbie his debut as a teenager (in 1998), I didn’t think he was going to become the record goalscorer,” explains the former Republic of Ireland boss.
“To be honest, I thought he was going to retire after the European Championships in 2012 when Damien Duff and Shay Given did.
“I wondered would Robbie go with them, especially with his move to America. I didn’t imagine after moving there that he’d be trekking back to play. He’s had to evolve because he’s not as quick anymore but he’s still Ireland’s talisman.”
As for Fletcher, who McCarthy paid €8m for as Wolves boss in 2010, the Ipswich boss feel he may be finding form just at the wrong time for Ireland.
“When I was asked about Fletch by another manager I said he could play in the top four teams in England,” he said.
“If it was a Champions League club that wanted a centre-forward, I would have hung my hat on him. He scored twice for Sunderland last week so I’m sure he’s full of confidence.”
What heartens McCarthy heading into a rematch of the game he played and won in for Ireland back in 1987 is David McGoldrick’s involvement.
The Ipswich striker had his eligibility paperwork formalised in time to join up with the Ireland squad for the first time this week.
“David is international class and would have no problem starting against Scotland, no doubt about that,” said his club boss.
“Everybody rates him so Ireland have got a top player on their hands. Even after not getting that move to the Premier League, he’s handled it maturely by continuing to play. I admire him for that because lots would have downed tools. I really can’t speak more highly of him.”
McGoldrick was part of a cohort of teens that emerged at Southampton with great expectations.
While his team-mate Theo Walcott hit the big time by joining Arsenal, McGoldrick slipped down the ladder into the third tier of English football.
McCarthy is renowned for spotting a bargain, though, and he sped the forward’s career back in the right direction last year.
So meteoric has been McGoldrick’s revival since being snapped up from Coventry City that his manager rejected the multi-million bid from Leicester in August.
McCarthy said: “David was a player I liked going back to his days at Southampton and Nottingham Forest. I thought he was a technically good player. But, when people talked about him, there was always a prefix of ‘but on his day’.
“As soon as you prefix a player with that, you begin to wonder. But I went to see him playing for Coventry City against Colchester knowing full well he would be available on a free or on loan.
“He played up front on his own and worked his socks off. I thought that if he’s doing that for Coventry in this division, then he could do it for me at Ipswich in the Championship. He’s certainly done it for me, so no-one can put that prefix on him anymore.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved