Alan Browne during his most recent appearance for Ireland, in the friendly defeat to England. PA
Fighting Talk

'I'm sure the critics have already ruled us out' - Browne seeking to prove Ireland's doubters wrong

Ireland begin their World Cup qualification campaign against Serbia next Wednesday.

STEPHEN KENNY HAS many bold ambitions to change Irish football, but it seems he hasn’t entirely done away with our old friend, the siege mentality. 

“On paper people will probably rule us out, if we’re being realistic, given our recent results we haven’t been doing well enough”, said midfielder Alan Browne this afternoon.

“So I’m sure the critics will have already ruled us out. But as a team and a nation, we’re always ones to thrive off this, be the underdog and come out on top, and that’s what we’re looking to do.” 

The Irish players have been gathering in Manchester this afternoon ahead of next week’s World Cup qualifiers, which begin away to Serbia next Wednesday followed by a home game with Luxembourg on Saturday. European champions Portugal are the group’s top dogs and are expected to top the group and earn automatic qualification for the World Cup in Qatar, meaning Ireland are most likely in a battle for second spot and a place in the play-offs. 

Serbia are the second seeds in the group and the favourites to take that play-off place, and their new manager Dragan Stojkovic has said this week he “expects” to beat Ireland in Belgrade. When said quote was dangled in front of Browne at a Zoom-based press conference today, the Preston midfielder didn’t bite too hard. 

“I’m unfazed by that. We expect to beat Serbia, I have no problem with that, as a manager you expect your team to go out and win.

“Fair play to him for coming out and saying that, a lot of people hide behind words and don’t say what they are thinking but I know our manager will be expecting the same from us and we’ll see how we get on on the day.” 

Ireland go into the game amid a horrible run of form from the Autumn, winless in eight games without scoring in seven of them. That run of form is somewhat caveated by an astonishing run of bad luck when it comes to player availability, which saw injury and suspension compound a luckless reality that led to Stephen Kenny losing 12 players to Covid-19, as a result of either positive tests or close contacts.

Browne is included twice on that list: he was one of the close contacts identified ahead of the Nations League game in Wales after the Euro 2020 playoff loss to Slovakia, and he then tested positive for the virus after the November friendly defeat to England. 

“Since Stephen’s come in, to be fair, he’s been really unfortunate”, said Browne. “Whether that’s injury, suspension or predominantly we’ve been filled with Covid in the camp, and whether that’s actually people getting it or close contacts, it’s really affected the squad and he’s had short numbers to select from on a few occasions. 

“So hopefully for this campaign we can keep as many available as possible, we’re still waiting on news from one or two but fingers crossed we’ll have a good selection of players to choose from.” 

Browne says the squad are not unencumbered by the collateral damage of their wretched run, but stressed he and the squad have the ability to turn things around, starting on Wednesday in Belgrade.

“Of course, as a player you are always affected by results, by your lack of goals, whether you are conceding goals. These things play on your mind and you want to fix them but we are the ones who can fix them so it’s up to us to find a solution and find it fast.

“For a lot of people this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, I know myself I want to take advantage of it and do all I can to play my part.” 

Given the team’s travails of late, international football can hardly have been seen as a happy distraction for the Irish players, but this window may prove so for Browne, who was informed shortly before today’s press conference that his club Preston had sacked manager Alex Neil. Preston have dropped to 16th in the Championship, after a win of just one win in nine games. 

“I was pretty gutted earlier, he has been fantastic for me and my career. He did a fantastic job and us, as players, ultimately we let him down as he’s not the one going out on the pitch but he’s the one taking the criticism. So it’s gutting for me but I am here in the camp now and need to put all my focus on that, and worry about that when I get back to my club.”

The squad has been hit by further injuries this weekend, with Callum O’Dowda, Kevin Long, and Conor Hourihane all ruled out. Significantly, goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher has also been ruled out, compounding the absence of Darren Randolph and leaving Stephen Kenny relying on a third-choice ‘keeper yet to make a competitive appearance, Mark Travers, in Serbia. 

Daragh Lenihan has been added to the squad to cover the absence of Long, with U21 midfielder Conor Coventry promoted to the senior ranks for the first time to add some depth to the midfield. 



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