Robbie Keane has hailed the latest generation of heroes, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick, after they played a starring role as the Republic of Ireland beat Italy 1-0 to reach the second round of Euro 2016.
Brady scored the late header that will grab the headlines, but Hendrick produced another all-action performance alongside his former St Kevin’s Boys team-mate in midfield.
Keane praised Brady’s versatility as he switched from the left-side into a central position and produced a man-of-the-match performance full of passion and creativity.
“He (Hendrick) had a few shots today and was unlucky with his left foot. He’s been top drawer. Him and Robbie (Brady) have been fantastic"
And the man who was so often Ireland’s match winner in the past has told Brady to saviour the moment.
“It’s a special moment for the country and certainly for the players, and certainly for Robbie Brady, who came up with a magnificent goal,” said Keane.
“I said to him after the game to enjoy this moment because they don’t come around very often and when they do it’s some experience. I told him to take it all in and enjoy every minute of it and I think he’s doing that.
“I think he’s been brilliant in the last three games. It’s not easy when you’re going from left-back and getting moved around and playing in midfield. When you’re a quality player you know the game in terms of your knowledge and how to play the game.
“I think it’s easy for players and certainly for Robbie it was. He’s an attacking-minded footballer in terms of that he wants to score goals and that’s why he got his goal.”
Keane was equally as effusive about Hendrick, who he has held in high regard since he was making waves in the Irish underage set-up, as he compared him to one of the game's modern greats.
He even urged his former club Tottenham to buy the Derby County midfielder four years ago, but “they wouldn’t listen”.
“He’s been brilliant in the last couple of games. He’s been a top, top player,” said Keane.
“If you look at the performances – I have watched nearly all the games. I can’t see anyone, apart from Iniesta and people like that, because they control the game in terms of their possession, but in terms of getting up and down, getting his tackles in, keeping the ball when he can, keeping his composure and then also trying to score goals for the team.
“He had a few shots today and was unlucky with his left foot. He’s been top drawer. Him and Robbie have been fantastic. He’s definitely been a massive plus to us.”
The Irish adventure now moves on to Lyon on Sunday for another massive game against the host nation, France. It’s a game, and an occasion, that Keane is relishing.
He said: “This is why we play the game. We’re playing against another good team.
“But we knew that if we were going to get out of the group we were going to play top teams and we’re playing the hosts. Wouldn’t it be great in the home country to knock them out.”