Rep of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill hails goal hero James McClean
Martin O'Neill said James McClean had the 'heart of a lion' after the winger struck twice in a 3-1 win over Moldova to give the Republic of Ireland's World Cup qualification hopes a major boost.
The Republic joined Serbia on seven points from three games with the Group D victory in Chisanu, moving ahead of Wales who could manage only a 1-1 draw at home to Georgia.
O'Neill's men took the lead early on through Shane Long with Igor Bugaev equalising prior to the break. The second half belonged to Londonderry-born McClean who came up trumps with an important brace.
O'Neill said: "He scored two goals for us, got himself in centre-forward positions and did brilliantly. He has the heart the size of a lion, we're delighted with him. And he must be delighted himself."
O’Neill was interested to hear about the Wales result, though he wasn’t that surprised remembering that in Dublin on Thursday his team were fortunate to beat Georgia 1-0.
The Republic of Ireland boss said: “Georgia, they can play.
“I think that’s sometimes forgotten about, they can play the game.
“I obviously have to study them because it’s my job, but the game against Austria in the first match, I know they conceded from a free-kick and they defended it poorly, but they could have easily got something out of that game throughout the whole evening.
“They actually can play and I said the other night, if they had a goalscoring centre-forward... they can play, they definitely can play.
“It came as no surprise to me tonight. The only thing I thought, I thought they might be on a bit of a downer having played the two games in quick succession.”
As important as the victory in Moldova could prove to be, O’Neill insists he isn’t getting ahead of himself at this stage of the campaign.
He continued: “It’s early on in the competition and, honestly, I’m delighted we have the points at this minute and we go in with a bit of confidence into the game next month regardless.
“But I said after our game in Serbia, anyone who finishes ahead of them will go very close.
“For us to win the game was pretty big.
“It’s too early to call things this early — it would be lunacy to do that — but it’s great to win away from home and especially in the manner in which we did.
“We played excellently in the first half of the game. We should have maybe been two or three in front. Then the goal knocked us back for a while.
“But we came around in the second half.
“We defended strongly. We created some chances and won the game and it was a big win for us.
“It’s great to win away from home. I thought we played with a bit of panache.”
Goalscorer McClean had a dig at the Irish media for what he felt were negative comments regarding the Republic after their campaign opening 2-2 draw with Serbia last month and last week’s 1-0 win over Georgia.
He said: “We got a lot of flak after the Serbia game and a lot of flak after the Georgia game.
“The Irish press, especially, they need a realisation....we’re not going to blow things away.
“We’ve always been a team that works hard and when has a win never been enough?
“We’re happy that we won tonight and we’re happy to move onto seven points. “Our fans are brilliant. They travel everywhere, home and away, but for some reason the media — it’s a no-win situation.”
After scoring his sixth and seventh goals for the Republic, McClean added: “It’s always nice to score for your country and tonight I was fortunate enough to be in the right position twice. I’m delighted — more so for the team than myself.”
The Republic of Ireland’s next World Cup qualifier is in Austria next month. Win there and they are in a fantastic position.