Analysing all 20 Ireland games of the Stephen Kenny era

The team have looked rejuvenated of late, after a tough start.

1. Bulgaria 1-1 Ireland (Nations League)

shane-duffy-scores-the-equalising-goal-in-injury-time-from-a-corner Ireland's Shane Duffy scores the equalising goal in injury time from a corner. Source: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, John Egan, Enda Stevens; James McCarthy (Robbie Brady, 70′), Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane; Callum O’Dowda (Callum Robinson 74′), Adam Idah (Shane Long, 78′), Aaron Connolly

Formation: 4-3-3

The first game of the Kenny era had a very familiar outcome, as a last-gasp Shane Duffy header rescued a 1-1 draw for Ireland. One of the biggest talking points was the decision to leave skipper Seamus Coleman on the bench, a controversial decision that would subsequently provide ammunition for some of Kenny’s critics.

It’s interesting to look at the team he picked that night. A little over a year has elapsed since then, and it feels that so much has changed. Of the players involved, for varying reasons, Darren Randolph, Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, Shane Long and Aaron Connolly weren’t even in the last squad. Meanwhile, Kenny’s predecessor Mick McCarthy commentating on the game for Sky Sports provided an interesting sideshow.

What Kenny said afterwards:  “We never surrendered belief, we kept doing the right things and we deserved the equaliser.

“We never would have deserved to lose that game, absolutely not. We could have won if we had taken our chances.

“We had good passages of play, created some good chances but Bulgaria caught us on the counter-attack a few times as well.

“There was a lot of good play in the game but also areas where we will need to improve.”

Possession: 62%

Shots on target: 3

2. Ireland 0-1 Finland (Nations League)

harry-arter-with-juhani-ojala-after-the-game Ireland's Harry Arter with Juhani Ojala of Finland after the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan, Enda Stevens; Harry Arter, Jayson Molumby, Robbie Brady; Callum O’Dowda (Callum Robinson, 58′), Adam Idah, (David McGoldrick, 66′) Aaron Connolly (James McClean, 77′)

Formation: 4-3-3

With no fans in attendance due to Covid and a 1-0 loss that could have been worse, Kenny’s first home game in charge was decidedly anti-climactic. Ireland’s dreadful run in the Nations League also continued — this was their sixth game without a victory. Kenny kept faith with eight of the players that started in Bulgaria, though interestingly opted to change the entire midfield — Robbie Brady, Harry Arter and debutant Jayson Molumby came into the side.

What Kenny said afterwards: “The ability to take chances is the critical thing. For us the bigger picture is Slovakia. We need to increase our attacking options for that. Some players did quite well. This gives us real food for thought, that’s for sure.”

Possession: 50%

Shots on target: 4

3. Slovakia 0-0 Ireland – Ireland lose 4-2 on penalties (Euros play-off) 

the-ireland-team-line-up-during-penalties-after-extra-time Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan, Enda Stevens; James McCarthy (Alan Browne 60′), Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick; Callum Robinson (Callum O’Dowda, 99′), David McGoldrick (Shane Long, 111′), James McClean (Robbie Brady, 60′)

Formation: 4-2-3-1

It’s tempting to wonder how different the tone of the commentary on the Stephen Kenny era might have been had they taken just one of their chances in this match or simply won the shootout. If that happened, Northern Ireland at Windsor Park would have been the next destination and a potential place at Euro 2020 and possibly games in Dublin (Ireland surely would have made more of an effort to keep the Aviva Stadium as a venue had the team qualified). Instead, Kenny and his squad were left to rue their luck, and it was the last act of one vital member of the team, with David McGoldrick subsequently announcing his retirement. It also proved to be one of the first but certainly not last bits of Covid-related misfortune, as Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly missed the game having sat on the wrong seats in the plane. It was still comfortably the best performance of the Kenny era and arguably Ireland’s best away performance in years up to that point.

Another interesting point is the team is not drastically different from the one that faced Portugal and Luxembourg earlier this month — McGoldrick, Darren Randolph and James McCarthy are the only players from the starting XI that didn’t feature in at least one of those games, although the considerable formation and positional switches since then must also be taken into account.  

What Kenny said afterwards: “The players showed tremendous qualities as Irishmen, and showed a great team ethic. As the game progressed I felt we were in the ascendancy, and it looked like we really wanted to win it. We had some really good chances but we just couldn’t score the goal we needed. It’s an unfortunate and harsh way to lose, but that’s the way it goes.”

Possession: 46%

Shots on target: 3

4. Ireland 0-0 Wales (Nations League)

matt-doherty-and-kieffer-moore Ireland’s Matt Doherty and Kieffer Moore of Wales. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), Kevin Long (Cyrus Christie, 25′), Enda Stevens; Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick; Robbie Brady (Daryl Horgan, 73′), Jayson Molumby (Josh Cullen, 89′), James McClean; Shane Long (Sean Maguire, 73′)

Formation: 4-2-3-1

Probably one of the most infamous bad luck games, where the squad was simply decimated by injuries and Covid withdrawals, to the point where Matt Doherty ultimately had to slot in at centre-back. One of the more notable facts from a fairly forgettable game was that it represented a first appearance of the Kenny era for Josh Cullen, coming on as a late substitute for Jayson Molumby. Partially due to James McCarthy’s recurring fitness issues, the Anderlecht man has consequently developed into a key squad member. With so many players unavailable, this game also saw appearances for some of the more peripheral members of the squad including Kevin Long, Cyrus Christie and Sean Maguire. A late James McClean red card provided a rare talking point amid what was generally a tepid affair. 

What Kenny said afterwards: “Considering all that happened and losing all the players on match day, the players can be extremely proud.

“We’re not saying it was a perfect performance. It was an evenly contested game [but] we had probably the better chances overall.

“And that considering the players had 120 minutes on Thursday night, flew back at six in the morning and then all that went on.”

Possession: 50%

Shots on target: 2

5. Finland 1-0 Ireland (Nations League)

aaron-connolly-dejected-after-the-game Ireland's Aaron Connolly dejected after the game. Source: Kalle Parkkinen/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), Dara O’Shea, Enda Stevens; Conor Hourihane, Jayson Molumby (Jason Knight, 83′); Daryl Horgan (Ronan Curtis, 74′), Jeff Hendrick (Adam Idah, 74′), Aaron Connolly; Sean Maguire (Robbie Brady, 52′)

Formation: 4-2-3-1

The second successive 1-0 loss to Finland and Fredrik Jensen was again the matchwinner, capitalising on a stray Darren Randolph goal kick. Dara O’Shea and Jason Knight made their debuts as Ireland again had some key players absent due to injury and Covid. Sean Maguire started on his own up front and again, Molumby got a chance in midfield, but the result and pattern of the game was familiar, with Ireland looking a little toothless at times, as they failed to score in four consecutive competitive games for the first time since March 1989 and continued a woeful away record that amounted to one win in 13.

What Kenny said afterwards: “It’s disappointing to lose the game. Matt Doherty had a header over the bar and he had a shot wide, Aaron Connolly had two efforts, Enda Stevens hit the bar, Ronan Curtis hit the post and that was just in the last half-hour.

“When Enda Stevens hit the bar that would have put us 1-0 up. A minute later we were 1-0 down. That was difficult to take. We’ve given a present away for the goal and that hasn’t been like us. Over the last two games, we had two clean sheets.

“The defence has been really good and Darren has been really good, but it’s just one of those things we have to put behind us.”

Possession: 47%

Shots on target: 4

6. England 3-0 Ireland (friendly)

dominic-calvert-lewin-celebrates-scoring-a-goal-with-teammates England's Dominic Calvert-Lewin celebrates scoring a goal with teammates. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie (Kevin Long, 62′), Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan (Dara O’Shea, 63′), Matt Doherty; Conor Hourihane (Jayson Molumby, 70′), Jeff Hendrick; Daryl Horgan (Robbie Brady, 62), Alan Browne, Callum O’Dowda (James McClean, 62′); Adam Idah (Ronan Curtis, 70′)

Formation: 4-2-3-1

This in many ways felt like one of the worst moments of the Kenny era. The team had suffered disappointing losses and draws previously, but England were by far the best team they had come up against and the Irish were plainly outclassed by their rivals. Much was made of the fact that not one Irish player picked up a booking as they suffered a first defeat against England since 1985, and Matt Doherty went so far as to say he was “embarrassed” by the performance. The morale in the camp was hardly high going into this campaign, but the ensuing videogate controversy and the FAI’s handling of it, which led to assistant coach Damien Duff’s exit, threatened to derail it entirely.

What Kenny said afterwards: “I think in the previous three games against Slovakia, Wales and Finland, collectively over 120, 90 and 90 minutes, we only conceded four chances and they weren’t that clear cut to be honest, so our shape was really, really good.

“We found it difficult to deal with England’s 3-4-3. I think we played well in the first half, played okay in the first 20 minutes. I was disappointed in the first 20 minutes of the second half in that we were far too passive. We can’t be as passive as we were in the first 20 minutes of the second half. We finished quite strongly in the game, but they were obviously a step up on the night.

“It could be a criticism, I accept the criticism for our shape out of possession against England the other night in that we found their movement of 3-4-3 difficult to deal with, so I see the point you’re making.”

Possession: 44%

Shots on target: 2

7. Wales 1-0 Ireland (Nations League)

stephen-kenny-reacts-after-a-missed-chance Ireland manager Stephen Kenny reacts after a missed chance. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), Kevin Long, Dara O’Shea (Callum O’Dowda, 82′); Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 74′); Daryl Horgan (Jason Knight, 58′), Robbie Brady (Jack Byrne, 81′), James McClean; Adam Idah (James Collins, 74′)

Formation: 4-3-3

Another fairly bad night at the office, as a front line of Daryl Horgan, James McClean and Adam Idah failed to fire. David Brooks’ second-half goal won it for the hosts, while a late Jeff Hendrick red card compounded the visitors’ woes. At this point, the Irish team were really starting to look short of ideas and quality.

What Kenny said afterwards: “I have no doubts I will be a success, absolutely no doubts.

“We have a clear vision of what we want. Between this camp and the previous camp, we have been in quite unprecedented circumstances, in modern times anyway. Certainly, it’s quite unprecedented.

“Nevertheless, the players have come out against a good Wales team today and put in a good performance overall.

“We didn’t create a load of chances, but you’re not going to against a good Wales team. We probably had the better chances up to the last five minutes, when they had two on the break.”

Possession: 52%

Shots on target: 4

8. Ireland 0-0 Bulgaria (Nations League)

shane-duffy-and-josh-cullen-dejected-at-the-end-of-the-game Ireland's Shane Duffy and Josh Cullen dejected at the end of the game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Dara O’Shea, Shane Duffy (captain), Kevin Long, Ryan Manning (Cyrus Christie, 84′); Jason Knight, Conor Hourihane, Robbie Brady (Jack Byrne, 78′); Daryl Horgan (Josh Cullen, 66′), James Collins (Sean Maguire, 85′), Ronan Curtis (Troy Parrott, 85′) 

Formation: 4-3-3

Ireland ended their Nations League campaign on a rare positive note, as they at least got the point necessary to avoid relegation, meaning they would be third seeds in the World Cup qualifying draw. Yet to claim it was a good night would be clutching at straws — their goalless run had extended to over 11 hours, as Ireland looked badly short in attack. In fact, it was arguably worse than ever, with the Boys in Green failing to register a single shot on target for the first and so far only time under Kenny. Yet there was one important caveat in that you could actually compile an entire team of players unavailable to the manager due to injury, Covid and suspension. That said, the predicament provided opportunities for others, including 19-year-old Jason Knight, who was named Ireland’s man of the match.

When you consider what he has gone on to achieve since Josh Cullen seemingly made a positive impression in what was just his second appearance under Kenny after a late cameo in the Wales home game. Conversely, Sean Maguire, Darren Randolph, Kevin Long and Jack Byrne have all not appeared in an Irish jersey since then, although injuries have been a factor in at least some of those cases.

What Kenny said afterwards: “The fact that the players have had to endure what they’ve had to endure over the last couple of months, having to deal with Covid-related nearly every day in the camp, it’s very unsettling for players, very unsettling for them in their lives and all their connected families.

“It’s been a very, very difficult period over the last two windows with all of that. We lost some players with bereavement in this camp – James McCarthy’s father, unfortunately, passed away – and we lost players through injury.

“There were a lot of issues and in the last two camps, we were probably missing players in double figures.”

Possession: 58%

Shots on target: 0

9. Serbia 3-2 Ireland (World Cup qualifier)

alan-browne-celebrates-after-scoring-a-goal-with-aaron-connolly Ireland's Alan Browne celebrates after scoring a goal with Aaron Connolly. Source: Nikola Krstic/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Mark Travers; Matt Doherty, Seamus Coleman (captain), Ciaran Clark (Robbie Brady, 78′), Dara O’Shea, Enda Stevens; Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick, 60′), Josh Cullen, Alan Browne (James Collins, 79′); Callum Robinson (James McClean, 78′), Aaron Connolly (Shane Long, 67′)

Formation: 3-5-2

Another defeat but at least Ireland could take some encouragement from the game. They ended their long barren run in front of goal, with Alan Browne giving them the lead and James Collins grabbing a late consolation. In hindsight, Kenny might regret handing a competitive debut to Mark Travers instead of Gavin Bazunu, as the latter has started every competitive game since, while the Bournemouth man was partially at fault for at least one of the Serbia goals. There was also the first start under Kenny for Josh Cullen. Moreover, it was Anthony Barry’s first game on the bench, and perhaps not coincidentally, the first time Ireland started with a Chelsea-esque 3-5-2 formation.

What Kenny said after: “Overall I can’t believe we conceded three goals because it didn’t look like that type of match that we would concede three goals.

“They had a period in the first half where they pushed us back. Tactically (Dusan) Tadic dropped into midfield and overloaded us a little but they didn’t penetrate.

“We were comfortable defensively. Seamus Coleman marshalled his defence brilliantly.

“3-1 down was a kick in the teeth. You were wondering how you were 3-1 down.”

Possession: 44%

Shots on target: 2

10. Ireland 0-1 Luxembourg (World Cup qualifier)

enda-stevens-dejected-at-the-end-of-the-game Ireland's Enda Stevens dejected at the end of the game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Seamus Coleman, Dara O’Shea, Ciaran Clark (James McClean 60′); Matt Doherty (Robbie Brady, HT), Josh Cullen (Jayson Molumby, 85′), Jason Knight, Alan Browne, Enda Stevens; Callum Robinson (Shane Long, 70′), James Collins (Troy Parrott, 85′)

Formation: 3-4-1-2

Without a doubt, the nadir of the Kenny reign, and the match was as tough to watch as the scoreline suggests. It was also a result that truly intensified the pressure on the manager, as even some people who had previously supported him began to doubt whether he was the man for the job. For all the criticism of the boss after this match for playing too many young players, it was arguably two of the most experienced campaigners whose stock fell the most subsequently, with Ciaran Clark and James Collins not starting a competitive fixture since. That said, Alan Browne and Jason Knight have not exactly been regular starters either in the aftermath of that debacle. 

What Kenny said afterwards: “Anything I say would sound like I’m making excuses. It’s just not good enough. Obviously, a lot of the players are not playing for their clubs. The second game in three days, some of them struggled with it.

“I take responsibility for the whole thing. It’s not good enough. I think the players are a lot better than they showed in that match. Compared to the performance in Serbia it was chalk and cheese.”

Possession: 63%

Shots on target: 3

11. Qatar 1-1 Ireland (friendly)

dara-oshea-with-abdulkarim-hassan-after-the-game Ireland's Dara O'Shea with Abdulkarim Hassan of Qatar after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Seamus Coleman (captain), Shane Duffy, Dara O’Shea; Cyrus Christie, Jeff Hendrick (Alan Browne, 85′), Jayson Molumby (Josh Cullen, 85′) James McClean (Ryan Manning, 85′); Robbie Brady (Troy Parrott, 22′) Shane Long (Callum Robinson, 55′), Daryl Horgan (Jason Knight 55′).

Formation: 3-4-3

Though it couldn’t have been much worse than Luxembourg, there were at least small signs of improvement in this encounter. Perhaps mindful of the criticism that he played too many youngsters in the previous match, eight changes were made and the side had a much more experienced look, with Shane Duffy, James McClean, Jeff Hendrick, Shane Long, Robbie Brady, Cyrus Christie, and Daryl Horgan, in addition to one youngster, Jayson Molumby, coming into the starting XI. Tellingly though, the most inexperienced player of them all, Gavin Bazunu, was one of the few to retain his place in the side. An early James McClean strike was cancelled out by Mohammed Muntari’s effort just after the break, as the winless run continued under Kenny.

What Kenny said afterwards: “There are people coming out of the woodwork wanting to kick us while we’re down, and that’s very evident. And maybe that’s to be expected. Some people have turned very quickly, but we will get back on track and will give the Irish supporters a team they can be very proud of.”

Possession: 45%

Shots on target: 5

12. Andorra 1-4 Ireland (friendly)

daryl-horgan-celebrates-scoring-their-fourth-goal Ireland's Daryl Horgan celebrates scoring their fourth goal. Source: Bagu Blanco/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty, Dara O’Shea (Ryan Manning, 85′), John Egan (captain), James McClean (Shane Duffy, 85′); Josh Cullen, Conor Hourihane (Harry Arter, 85′); Jason Knight, Troy Parrott (Jamie McGrath, 82′), Ronan Curtis (Daryl Horgan, 65) ; James Collins (Adam Idah, 65′)

Formation: 4-2-3-1

While most people will highlight the Luxembourg match as the nadir of Kenny’s reign so far, others might be tempted to suggest the six-minute period where Ireland were trailing Andorra. Fortunately, a Troy Parrott-inspired side recovered admirably, as the Tottenham youngster scored the first two goals in what was ultimately a comfortable victory. Disappointingly, Parrott hasn’t really kicked on since then at international level, but it was a largely positive day. The first win in 12 attempts felt like an important milestone for Kenny, regardless of the opposition’s low status, while Parrott wasn’t the only youngster to impress, as Jason Knight registered a goal and an assist. The game was also notable for being a rare example of Ireland starting with a four-man backline in the post-Anthony Barry era.

What Kenny said afterwards: “It’s a game you’re expected to win, there’s no doubt about that.

“But having said that, once you concede a goal like that on the run that we’ve been on, there was a fair degree of pressure on the players.

“To come back in the manner that they did was excellent, to score four goals, and there was real quality in the goals as well.

“It’s the difference confidence can make, I think Troy’s goal was the turning point and the players seemed to be more confident after he got that goal and we played much better after that.”

Possession: 77%

Shots on target: 5

13. Hungary 0-0 Ireland (friendly)

troy-parrott-and-jason-knight-are-booed-by-fans-as-they-take-a-knee-before-the-game Ireland's Troy Parrott and Jason Knight are booed by fans as they take a knee. Source: Attila Trenka/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu (Caoimhin Kelleher, HT) ; Matt Doherty; Shane Duffy, John Egan (captain), Dara O’Shea; James McClean (Ryan Manning, 84′); Josh Cullen, Conor Hourihane (Jayson Molumby, 55′); Jason Knight (Chiedozie Ogbene, 88′); Troy Parrott (Horgan, 55′), Adam Idah (James Collins, 88′)

Formation: 3-4-1-2

A result that owed much to the performances of Gavin Bazunu and Caoimhin Kelleher more than anything else, though it was another sign that Ireland were on the right track, as they held a side that would go on to make a decent impact at that summer’s Euros, despite being drawn in the group of death. As well as Kelleher, there was also a debut off the bench for Chiedozie Ogbene, as he became the first Africa-born player to represent Ireland at senior level and almost scored with his first touch, finding the side-netting from a tight angle. But perhaps most significantly from an Irish perspective, Shane Duffy produced a man-of-the-match performance that indicated he could be beginning to recover some of his pre-Celtic form.

What Kenny said afterwards (on Irish players taking the knee): “I think it’s a very important message. The fact it was booed was incomprehensible, really.

“It must be damaging for Hungary, with the Euros in Hungary. It’s disappointing and it doesn’t reflect well on Hungary and the Hungarian support. Our players wanted to do it, it’s an important stance and I commend them for taking that stance.”

Possession: 40%

Shots on target: 1

14. Portugal 2-1 Ireland (World Cup qualifier)

cristiano-ronaldo-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-first-goal Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Seamus Coleman (captain); Shane Duffy, John Egan, Dara O’Shea; Matt Doherty; Josh Cullen, Jeff Hendrick, Jamie McGrath (Jayson Molumby, 90′); Aaron Connolly (James McClean, 71′), Adam Idah (James Collins, 90′)

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Formation: 3-4-2-1

Despite the result, the performance certainly gave hope to Kenny advocates, as Ireland led until the 89th minute and arguably could have been further ahead were it not for some questionable refereeing decisions. Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo intervened with a brilliant late double that all but ended Ireland’s qualification hopes, while the detractors pointed out that the Boys in Green were still without a competitive win under Kenny. But the manager did earn some praise for his bold team selection, as there were competitive debuts for both Jamie McGrath and Andrew Omobamidele. It was encouraging overall, but not quite the dominant or superb performance that some claimed, as illustrated by the fact that Ireland had just 28% possession in the game.

What Kenny said afterwards: “Gavin Bazunu showed his character because he’d made a mistake and he’s one of those goalkeepers you’d think he might save [Ronaldo's penalty].

“He has the capacity, even though he’s only 19, to save that, because there are elements of his character that would suggest that, that’s been visible to me.

“We played well, had some good chances. The players knew it would have been the greatest result in Ireland’s football history in terms of qualification, we’ve never won away to a major nation like this.”

Possession: 28%

Shots on target: 2

15. Ireland 1-1 Azerbaijan (World Cup qualifier)

daryl-horgan-and-shane-duffy-dejected Ireland’s Daryl Horgan and Shane Duffy dejected at the final whistle. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty (James Collins, 80′); Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, John Egan; James McClean; Josh Cullen (Alan Browne, 86′), Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 62′); Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 62′), Aaron Connolly (Daryl Horgan HT); Adam Idah 

Formation: 3-4-2-1

It wasn’t as bad as Luxembourg, but it wasn’t far off. Just as had been the case in the previous qualifying window, Ireland followed up an encouraging away defeat with a dire home display. Their blushes were spared thanks to a late Shane Duffy header as a 22-month wait finally ended and fans returned to the Aviva. Probably even more so than the Luxembourg defeat, this was the point where talk of Kenny’s job being under threat intensified and there was even a smattering of boos amid the final whistle. It appears to be the game where Kenny lost patience a little with some of his younger players, as neither Aaron Connolly nor Troy Parrott have started under him since.

What Kenny said afterwards: “It’s probably a game we deserved to win 3-1 or 4-1, we created a lot of chances.

“We started the first 15 minutes really, really well. We got right on top. They had a spell of possession which was always likely. They didn’t really create anything, just the one chance on the break in the second half.

“We had so many chances where we missed the target a lot which was disappointing. We sort of paid the price for that.

Possession: 59%

Shots on target: 5

16. Ireland 1-1 Serbia (World Cup qualifier)

stephen-kenny-and-goalkeeper-gavin-bazunu Ireland's manager Stephen Kenny and goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu of Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty; Andrew Omobamidele, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan; James McClean; Josh Cullen (Jayson Molumby, 65′), Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane, 78′), Alan Browne (Callum Robinson, 57′); Jamie McGrath (Daryl Horgan, 66′), Adam Idah (James Collins, 78′)

Formation: 3-5-1-1

Probably a better result than performance, but it at least steadied the ship somewhat, with Kenny under mounting pressure. In one sense, it could easily have been mistaken for a game in the Martin O’Neill or Mick McCarthy era, as Ireland rallied to earn a 1-1 draw late on, having been largely outplayed by their technically superior opponents, but where this differed was that Ireland’s two best players on the night were teenagers — man-of-the-match Gavin Bazunu and Andrew Omobamidele on his full international debut.

What Kenny said afterwards: “If that game was behind closed doors we’d have lost it. The support were magnificent, it was like a full house. The players got energy from that.

 “We had a break at the end, we haven’t had too many of them”

Possession: 42% 

Shots on target: 2

17. Azerbaijan 0-3 Ireland (World Cup qualifier)

ireland-players-applaud-fans-after-the-game Ireland players applaud fans after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty; Andrew Omobamidele, Shane Duffy, John Egan (captain); James McClean; Josh Cullen (Conor Hourihane, 90′), Jeff Hendrick; Callum Robinson (Troy Parrott, 90′), Daryl Horgan (Jamie McGrath HT); Adam Idah (Chiedozie Ogbene, 58′)

Formation: 3-4-2-1

A week that started in such a controversial fashion, with Callum Robinson admitting he had yet to be vaccinated could hardly have gone better thereafter. The 3-0 win in Baku, as well as Ireland finally earning a first competitive victory under Kenny and second in 17 overall was perhaps the first sign that the team were genuinely improving and learning from past mistakes. Robinson was in the headlines for more positive reasons, as he hit a brace, while an increasingly prominent Chiedozie Ogbene added a late third on his competitive debut. Ireland certainly weren’t dominating possession, but they were becoming more of an attacking threat as the stats below indicate.

What Kenny said afterwards: “From our point of view the win was overdue.

“It’s important. To win 3-0 away from home in a qualifier is rare. Azerbaijan have been dangerous opponents for many teams, they have been very tight games. To win 3-0 was terrific.

“That’s just one defeat in the last seven games, and that was the late goal by Ronaldo against Portugal, so I feel we are improving all the time.”

Possession: 36%

Shots on target: 8

18. Ireland 4-0 Qatar (friendly)

shane-duffy-celebrates-scoring-the-fourth-goal Ireland’s Shane Duffy celebrates scoring the fourth goal. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhin Kelleher; Andrew Omobamidele, Shane Duffy (captain) (Nathan Collins, 76′) John Egan; Matt Doherty (Cyrus Christie, HT); Jeff Hendrick, Conor Hourihane (Harry Arter, 87′); Enda Stevens; Jamie McGrath (James Collins, 87′), Callum Robinson (Troy Parrott, 77;); Chiedozie Ogbene (Jason Knight, 68;)

Formation: 3-4-3

Another good day for Ireland and Callum Robinson in particular, as he grabbed a hat-trick (the first Irish player to do so at international level since Robbie Keane against Gibraltar in 2014) in this emphatic win — Kenny’s first on home turf as a manager. As poor as the opposition were on the night, there was a real satisfaction about the performance as Ireland registered three goals in back-to-back games for the first time since 2014 when Noel King’s brief reign ended and Martin O’Neill’s began. Perhaps the most significant selection decision saw Chiedozie Ogbene being handed a first start, paving the way for his starring role the following month.

What Kenny said afterwards: “We expected a really tough game, we didn’t anticipate winning 4-0. I know they lost to Portugal the other night but they have had some good results. They’ve been at the Copa America in a group against Argentina and only lost 1-0.

“We thought we would have a really tough game tonight so to dominate in manner we did, every player’s technical quality was of a really high standard.”

Possession: 63%

Shots on target: 5

19. Ireland 0-0 Portugal (World Cup qualifier)

ireland-fans-hold-up-a-sign-for-callum-robinson-after-the-game Ireland fans hold up a sign for Callum Robinson after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty; Seamus Coleman (captain), Shane Duffy, John Egan; Enda Stevens (James McClean 77′); Jeff Hendrick (Conor Hourihane, 77′), Josh Cullen; Jamie McGrath (Adam Idah 60′), Chiedozie Ogbene (Will Keane, 90′); Callum Robinson.

Formation: 3-4-3 

A further sign that Ireland’s confidence was increasing amid an improved performance, as the hosts this time kept a star-studded Portugal team that included Cristiano Ronaldo at bay. Kenny was again rewarded for a surprise selection, as Ogbene made his first competitive start and regularly posed problems for the Portuguese. It could have been even better as a late Matt Doherty goal was questionably ruled out, but regardless, there was now no doubt that this Irish team’s fortunes were beginning to change for the better.

What Kenny said afterwards: “In the second half I thought we were the better team. We played the better football overall and played very well in the second half. Obviously, Portugal were still dangerous as their players are so good.

“We are disappointed we had a legitimate goal disallowed. There is no foul, there is no reason to disallow it.”

Possession: 49%

Shots on target: 2

20. Luxembourg 0-3 Ireland (World Cup qualifier)

callum-robinson-gives-away-his-jersey-to-a-fan-after-the-game Ireland's Callum Robinson gives away his jersey to a fan after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Seamus Coleman (captain), Shane Duffy, John Egan; Matt Doherty (Troy Parrott, 88′); Jeff Hendrick, Josh Cullen (Andrew Omobamidele, 88′); James McClean; Chiedozie Ogbene (Alan Browne, 80′), Callum Robinson (Conor Hourihane, 88′); Adam Idah (Jason Knight, 61′)

Formation: 3-4-2-1

In a way, this performance was more satisfying than the Portugal one because it proved Ireland were now capable of playing well in back-to-back games under Kenny, beating the lower-ranked sides as well as putting in creditable performances against the bigger teams. While there were still some familiar faces around, both the style and personnel had changed considerably from Kenny’s first game in charge. The emphasis on youth was particularly encouraging — nine of the 19 squad members that went on that trip were aged 23 or under, which can only bode well for the future of Irish football, while two relatively inexperienced players, Ogbene and Knight, were particularly instrumental in the win. A turbulent campaign had ended on a high amid suggestions that the awarding of a new contract for Kenny was now a mere formality.

What Kenny said afterwards (on the Luxembourg coach): “He is a good football coach, but psychology, he maybe needs to have a look at that side of things. His sports psychology wasn’t of the highest order. We were disappointed he denigrated all the great players who played for Ireland.

“Denis Irwin was in with us a couple of weeks ago. Roy Keane, John Giles, Liam Brady, Mick McCarthy, Robbie Keane, Damien Duff. It is wrong to say they just fight for second balls and played caveman football for a hundred years. It’s wrong to suggest that, we thought he denigrated a lot of players and that was unacceptable.”

Possession: 56%

Shots on target: 7

Number of players to feature under Kenny: 41

Darren Randolph (8 starts), Matt Doherty (18 starts), Shane Duffy (17 starts, 1 sub), John Egan (13 starts), Enda Stevens (9 starts), James McCarthy (2 starts), Robbie Brady (5 starts, 6 sub), Jeff Hendrick (13 starts, 1 sub), Conor Hourihane (9 starts, 6 sub), Callum O’Dowda (3 starts, 2 sub), Callum Robinson (7 starts, 5 sub), Adam Idah (10 starts, three sub), Shane Long (2 starts, 4 sub), Aaron Connolly (6 starts), Harry Arter (1 start, 2 subs), Jayson Molumby (7 starts, 5 sub), David McGoldrick (1 start, 1 sub), James McClean (10 starts, 6 sub), Alan Browne (4 starts, 4 sub), Kevin Long (3 starts, 1 sub), Cyrus Christie (2 starts, 3 sub), Daryl Horgan (6 starts, 5 sub), Josh Cullen (10 starts, 3 sub), Sean Maguire (1 start, 2 sub), Dara O’Shea (9 starts, 1 sub), Jason Knight (4 starts, 5 sub), Ronan Curtis (2 starts, 2 sub), Jack Byrne (2 sub), James Collins (3 starts, 7 sub), Ryan Manning (1 start, 3 sub), Troy Parrott (3 starts, 6 sub), Mark Travers (1 start), Seamus Coleman (7 starts), Ciaran Clark (2 starts), Gavin Bazunu (10 starts), Jamie McGrath (4 starts, 2 sub), Caoimhin Kelleher (1 start, 1 sub), Chiedozie Ogbene (3 starts, 2 sub), Andrew Omobamidele (3 starts, 2 sub), Nathan Collins (1 sub), Will Keane (1 sub).

Number of players awarded debuts under Kenny: 12

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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