The time is right for Kennedy

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The Independent Online

reports from Vienna

Jack Charlton's reasoning is sometimes astonishingly uncluttered: there's no time like the present, he was saying yesterday. In naming Mark Kennedy, just 19, for his first taste of senior international football, Charlton might have been including Liverpool's protege in a five-a-side kick-about.

"This is an appropriate time, an ideal time, to play him," Charlton said. "He will either play crap, which I have seen him play, or he will play extremely well. He has a lot of ability."

Charlton, the "shrink", understands the psyche of the man, or rather the boy, in international football terms, well enough to know that such a black and white verdict will not knock Kennedy sideways.

"He's the type who won't let the occasion worry him. So in he goes at a time of need and why not? If Jason McAteer was here he would have played, too. The longer we put off bringing the younger lads in, the worse it is going to be."

Kennedy, promoted from the Under-21 squad, will attempt to carbon-copy Steve Staunton, sidelined through injury along with Phil Babb.

After the bonus of Latvia's 3-2 defeat of Austria last month, the Republic's hopes of qualifying from Group Six with Portugal, who are all but there, are looking much brighter than when Austria shredded a weakened midfield to win 3-1 at Lansdowne Road in June. Roy Keane and Andy Townsend, both absent then, will be back today.

The Austrian coach, Herbert Prohaska, is inwardly, at least, far more knotted up than Charlton. His job is on the line in the Ernst Happel Stadium where the nation's gloom is reflected in advance ticket sales of a mere 12,000.

Charlton's main concern is with the goals potential of his five-man midfield with Niall Quinn the lone ranger up front.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (European Championship Group Six v Austria, Vienna, tonight): A Kelly (Sheffield Utd); G Kelly (Leeds Utd), Irwin (Manchester Utd), Kernaghan (Manchester City), McGrath (Aston Villa), Houghton (Crystal Palace), Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Keane (Manchester Utd), Townsend (Aston Villa), Kennedy (Liverpool), Quinn (Manchester City).