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Kenny confident Ireland have a bright future ahead if they can sort out long-term striking problem

 

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Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny speaking at a press conference in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny speaking at a press conference in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny speaking at a press conference in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Change happens all the time in football, but the Irish football team is heading into a new season in which its life may not just be changed, but changed utterly.

There's a new manager in Stephen Kenny, along with his choice of a new back-room team of coaches, physios, kitmen and video analysts.

The players are coming in cold, with their Covid-hit season not having started in England.

There's the prospect of playing for the Republic in front of no spectators, for the rest of this year anyway, and there's the clear word from Kenny that there is going to be a new way of playing.

And virus permitting, there is, for this team, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of playing in a major finals at home.

The new boss has never hidden his belief that he does not share the general notion that Irish footballers are not technically good enough.

That they cannot retain possession or pass the ball, that the Boys in Green at senior international level have to only be about solid defence and then hoofing the ball clear at the first sign of trouble.

The Republic scored just seven goals in Euro 2020 qualifying - three of the seven coming against the might of Gibraltar. There is the problem in a nutshell. Yes, there is good, young striking talent coming through, and no-one knows that better than Kenny as the ex-manager of the Under-21 team.

Yet there is the teasing suspicion that it will not be until the start of the next international cycle, in the spring of 2023, after the December World Cup finals of 2022, that the likes of Troy Parrott (inset), Adam Idah, Michael Obafemi and Jonathan Afolabi will be mature and ready to score international goals off the prompting of emerging midfield talent such as Jayson Molumby and Conor Coventry. That's a long way off for Kenny.

He may be heavily involved in the FAI's planning for the future but, as Brian Kerr, the last League of Ireland manager to get the national job, said last week, when you are the international manager you are judged on international results, not on any other work you do. And Kenny has little time to impart his thoughts and philosophy to the players when they assemble in Dublin today.

"The main thing for me is how we're going to play, to imprint that idea from Sunday to Thursday," Kenny says. "Basically, we've got two training sessions on Monday and Tuesday. We get an hour in the stadium on Wednesday when you can't really work on anything because it's the opposing team's venue.

"We'll get the chance to prepare the players in the way we want to play. We'll do that in terms of video analysis. That's key for us. We know the players are proud to play for Ireland. They've already got a great sense of identify. I'm not just saying it - but it's an incredibly exciting period over the next six to nine months.

"We've got the six Nations League games, the Play-Off against Slovakia and a possible Play-Off Final. Then we've got World Cup qualifiers and maybe the European Championship next year.

"The potential is there to have a really high number of games in the next year. It's something that has to be a massive motivation for our players. If things go well, it would be an incredible period in all of their lives. It's unique in the historical sporting context of Irish life," added Kenny.

It looks as though James McCarthy of Crystal Palace is coming back to the team after a cruel run with injuries and a time when the Irish team was not at the forefront of his mind as he battled for a club future. Kenny has him pencilled in as a holding midfield player, with Jeff Hendrick on the right of three in midfield.

"But I think it's very competitive and places in that area of the team are up for grabs," the manager says. "That's healthy you know."

What's maybe not healthy for a manager is to have to tell players, such as Glenn Whelan, Jack Byrne and Scott Hogan, that they are not in the squad. Especially as he has ditched the habit of Martin O'Neill and Mick McCarthy of picking huge 37 or 38-man squads and then dropping players just as the group is about to assemble.

"There were a lot of very marginal decisions," he says, "and some players have done well and have been left out. It's just getting the right balance, some of the decisions are marginal and it can be tough."

Belfast Telegraph