James McClean fired the Republic of Ireland to a precious World Cup qualifying victory in Austria to spare himself a showdown with Roy Keane.
The 27-year-old West Brom winger scored the only goal at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna with a sweetly struck left-footed drive, and later revealed he had assistant manager Keane on his mind as he raced in on goalkeeper Ramazan Ozcan.
McClean told Sky Sports after the 1-0 win: “If I had missed the target, Roy would have killed me. He hammers 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 played in Vienna after recovering from a back injury which threatened to rule him out, and his individual display earned him praise from manager Martin O’Neill, who handed him his chance in the Premier League as a youngster during their time together at Sunderland.
O’Neill said: “I gave him his full debut. 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 is 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.”