Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire are desperate for a chance to prove they can fill Robbie Keane’s sizeable boots.
Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill has repeatedly bemoaned the fact that he inherited Keane, who scored 68 international goals in 146 appearances for his country, as a 33-year-old when he took the job in November 2013.
Jonathan Walters and James McClean have come closest to restoring a measure of the firepower the former Wolves, Coventry, Inter Milan, Leeds, Tottenham and Liverpool marksman once supplied since he ended his Republic career in 2016, although Walters is now injured and McClean is a winger by trade.
With Shane Long’s goals having largely dried up and Aiden O’Brien’s international career in its infancy, Aston Villa’s Hogan and Preston’s Maguire are relishing an admittedly daunting challenge.
Hogan, who is yet to play for club or country this season because of a groin injury, said: “It’s difficult, obviously. When someone scores that many goals, it’s a hard act to follow.
“You’ve just got to do what you can, believe in what you’re good at. You’ve just to concentrate on yourself.
“What’s gone is gone. He is a hard act to follow – maybe impossible to follow – but you just have to take each game as it comes and hopefully get halfway near the level someone sets.”
Maguire, who made his first start for Ireland alongside debutant Hogan in Turkey in March, is equally realistic about the task, but also excited about the prospect of taking it on in Saturday’s Nations League clash with Denmark and the game against Wales which follows it.
He said: “We haven’t had that goalscorer since Robbie Keane left. I don’t think we will ever fully replace him, given the number of goals he has scored for his country.
“I feel there is an opportunity for one of the four new lads coming in to stake a claim for a jersey.
“If I get the opportunity, hopefully I do step up to the plate and play a crucial part, if that’s coming off the bench or from the start of the game. We’ll see what happens.”
Both men have been severely hampered by injury in recent months – Maguire is just a game into his comeback from a second serious hamstring problem – and whether or not O’Neill is prepared to risk either remains to be seen.
In truth, his options are limited: Long, his most senior striker, has not scored for Ireland since October 2016 and has only seven Southampton goals to his name in the meantime, while Hogan, Maguire, O’Brien and Callum Robinson have little experience at international level.
Asked about Long, O’Neill said: “In truth, we don’t have anyone who has proved themselves to be a prolific scorer, so it is a difficult one.
“Shane is not that – he hasn’t scored at club level now for quite some considerable time and of course that plays with your mind.
“But you have to be very, very strong and think then the next chance that comes along, ‘This is the one that I’m going to take’.”
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