Leicester City defender Jonny Evans admits he is still determined to impress boyhood idol Roy Keane when Northern Ireland face the Republic in Dublin on Thursday.
Former Manchester United skipper Keane is Martin O’Neill’s assistant manager in the Ireland set-up and Evans suggests the ex-Red Devils skipper still has ‘that hold’ over him.
Belfast-born Evans played under Keane during loan spells at Sunderland after he had joined Manchester United himself. Now 30-years-old, the experienced defender suggests Keane’s on-field attitude still comes to mind when things get tough.
“Keane was the player I looked up to most when I was growing up as a United fan. He was the United captain and then I went on to play for him at Sunderland in two loan spells,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“He was a big inspiration for me and I still think of him a lot when I am on the pitch. I think ‘well, if Roy Keane was in this situation and things were tough then he’d roll his sleeves up and continue fighting’.
“Sometimes maybe I think ‘is he still watching me?’ – he’s still got that hold on me!”
Northern Ireland have lost their last three UEFA Nations League games and, while it may only be a friendly, Evans expects Thursday’s Aviva Stadium clash to have a competitive edge.
Evans has only played against the Republic in a behind-closed-doors match in 2015, which ended scoreless, as he missed the 5-0 thrashing in the 2011 Nations Cup.
“Obviously we had the game behind closed doors a couple of years ago and, even though there were no fans there, there were still a few challenges going in – but they were made in the right way,” he added.
“I think this one will be a competitive fixture and a good game to watch.”
The Republic are favourites at 2.10 for the Dublin tussle, with Northern Ireland 3.80 to win and the draw priced at 2.88.