MICK McCARTHY yesterday vowed to protect the 17-year-old Robbie Keane from the burden of being labelled as his country's footballing saviour.
The Wolves youngster was outstanding in the 0-0 draw with the World Cup finalists, Mexico, in Dublin on Saturday, almost capping a superb all- round display in his third international with a late winner. Despite failing to register the goal his performance deserved, he still did enough to claim the man of the match accolade and confirm the Republic can look to the future with renewed hope.
McCarthy had to prepare for the last friendly of the season without Roy Keane, Denis Irwin, Jason McAteer, Steve Staunton, Niall Quinn and Mark Kinsella. But his experimental side did better than expected, thanks to the displays of both Keane and the Blackburn winger, Damien Duff.
Now McCarthy is hoping that Keane, not 18 until July, will not be carried away by his rise. "He is a very talented young man and he has got a big future in the game," the Irish manager said. "But I also think that to put that weight of expectation on him - the way we all tend to do - is a bit unfair. I wouldn't want to affect his performances by putting extra pressure on him. Young players have to grow up very quickly as it is and he has come from school to the youth team to international football in double quick time.
"Players don't get any education in handling that sort of pressure, from the media, agents and supporters. It is a very difficult transition for him and he will need the right assistance and advice from those around him."
For Mexico the result was something of a relief, after last week's 5- 2 defeat in Norway. They still have much work to do prior to France 98, though.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Newcastle); Fleming (Middlesbrough), Babb (Liverpool), Breen (Coventry), Harte (Leeds), G Kelly (Leeds), Carsley (Derby), Farrelly (Everton), Duff (Blackburn), R Keane (Wolves), Connolly (Feyenoord). Substitutes: Delap (Derby) for Duff, 72; Kennedy (Queen's Park Rangers) for Connolly, 72.
MEXICO: Campos (UNAM), Pardo (Atlas), J Sanchez (Guadalajara), Davino (America), Luna (UNAM), Garcia Aspe (America), Ordiales (Toluca), Suarez (Guadalajara), Ramirez (Guadalajara), Hernandez (Necaxa), Blanco (Necaxa). Substitutes: Palencia (Cruz Azul) for Ordiales, h-t; Pelaez (America) for Ramirez, 55; Chavez (Guadalajara) for Hernandez, 82.
Referee: J Ashman (Wales). Booked: Republic of Ireland: G Kelly, Delap. Mexico: Garcia Aspe, Ramirez.
Man of the match: R Keane.
Attendance: 28,500.Reuse content