Former Derry City winger James McClean claimed Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane might have ‘killed’ him had he missed the target with the strike that took Martin O’Neill’s side to the top of Group D on Saturday night.
The 27-year-old Creggan man scored described his goal at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna as his “biggest” for his country after seeing his left-footed drive go through goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan’s legs for the only goal of the game.
“If I had missed the target, Roy would have killed me,” said the West Brom player, “He hammers it into us in training that we must hit the target. I hit it sweetly and it flew through the keeper’s legs. It was without a doubt my biggest goal for Ireland.
“I’ve been around now for four or five years. Only now am I starting to lay down a place and make that my own. You play on merit and the performances you put in, so I want to keep pulling my weight.”
McClean, who lined out alongside fellow Derry man Shane Duffy, was named ‘Man of the Match’ for his superb display and it drew praise from his manager on a night that saw qualification rivals Wales and Serbia draw 1-1 in Cardiff.
“I gave him his full debut (as Sunderland),” said O’Neill, “James had played a reserve game just before that and I saw someone with great desire, and I think over the past couple of years he has improved and that’s great for us.
“He loves playing for us, which is very, very important and he is as proud as anything now.
“If the game had been on Tuesday, he couldn’t have played and I think that speaks volumes for him. Knowing McClean, he would have tried to declare himself fit, but he wouldn’t have made it.
“But he has been excellent for us. He has really proven his worth and he is becoming a big player for us, which is great.”