Niall Quinn believes the goals will definitely come in the green shirt for Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan despite both strikers firing blanks in last week’s friendly defeat in Turkey.
“It was a tough game, they weren’t missing chances every five minutes,” says Quinn, Ireland’s second-highest scorer after Robbie Keane. “But I know one thing, the two of them are going back to their clubs as proper internationals now. They’ll feel bigger and better. I can only pivot it back to my experience when I first got picked for Ireland. It was a summer tournament (in Iceland, in 1986). I left a raw kid, giddy, and I came back an international a couple weeks later. I didn’t need to grow a foot, but I did in theory.
“Before Sean went to England, I said I’d take him. He really has a chance of going up the gears. Now, of course, everybody is talking about him. That creates pressure, big pressure. And Scott as well. He was flying at Brentford and then, at Villa, there’s 40-odd thousand at a Championship game, you’re expected to score and that takes getting used to. But chances will come his way at Villa, and Maguire will score. He has that ‘I’m going to score’ look about him.”
Quinn is not inclined to attach too much significance to the fact it didn’t happen for the duo in Turkey.
“No, not at all. It would be great if the first one came off but things aren’t like that. They’ll have more chances, you would hope. You’re kind of tested at that early stage about how you bounce back anyway. If you have a bad game, a good player can’t wait for the next one to get it right. I think the worst thing ever is if you play a bad game on the last game of the season and you have to wait two and a half months to put it right.
“I’d like to see them play a home game against a team ranked 100 places below us because that’s how Jack got us going! Hopefully over this series of games coming up they’ll find the back of the net because once you find it, you’re off and running.”
In particular, Quinn has high hopes for the former Cork City goal ace.
“I would have Maguire ahead of anybody to do it,” he says. “Some of the goals he has got for Preston, you can see him wanting it, wanting it half a yard quicker than anyone around him. And then he skips off to celebrate. It’s good. I think he has a real chance.
“Comparing him to Robbie is unfair but finding a yard — particularly the higher the level you go, against defenders who are athletic and read the game so well — that yard and reading of the ball is crucial, and I think he does that well. It is almost as if he ghosts into space and then the ball comes at the right time. His finishing ability is exceptional.”
But the Irish player who really stood out for Quinn — as for most observers — in Antalya was man of the match debutant Declan Rice.
“Rice is there already, he’s made an enormous leap in a quick amount of time,” says Quinn. “He looked so assured, he’s a great future ahead of him. I like that he seems to have a real good head on his shoulders and he seems very committed to the cause.
“What I really liked was his positional play. He played in a three, they had a lot of possession and they probed, but I just thought off the ball he was really good. You don’t see it all on the screen, but he was always in good position.”
Speaking of which: Is his best position for Ireland in defence or midfield?
“It is very hard to say now but the way the game has gone it is a real gift to have a player who can defend and play football. How far is he away from John Stones, for instance, who was transferred for £50m (57.1m)?
“For me, he can already do a lot of what John Stones can do. Where in an Irish jersey does that put him? I think there is a flexibility there that we have not had since Paul McGrath was around. We used to wait for Jack to see where he was going to play him this week and you knew it was going to be fine.
“He (Rice) has got something. He looks the part, he moves well, his feet are good, his positioning is very good off the ball. And he is not afraid to get stuck in.”
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