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Bold Adam Idah call a metaphor for new Ireland

The 19-year-old Cork-born forward was handed his senior international debut in Stephen Kenny’s first match in charge.

Adam Idah (left) made his senior international debut last night.
Adam Idah (left) made his senior international debut last night.
Image: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

“YOU CAN’T be paralysed by fear. Life is short.”

The above quote was uttered by Stephen Kenny last year. At the time, his Ireland U21 team were winning admirers and were about to draw 0-0 with Italy at Tallaght Stadium in a more entertaining game than the scoreline suggests.

You could argue those words encapsulate Kenny’s managerial philosophy, and particularly with regard to his groundbreaking stint at Dundalk where he took a struggling League of Ireland side and turned them into Europa League group stage contenders and comfortably the dominant side in the country.

The general hype, and in particular the expectations with regard to Kenny’s style of play, was considerable prior to his first senior international match in charge, and so it felt almost inevitable that there would be a slight sense of anti-climax once the Bulgaria game took place.

The 1-1 outcome and the late Shane Duffy headed equaliser made it feel like an occasion straight out of the Martin O’Neill/Mick McCarthy eras, but regardless, there is something very distinctive about Kenny’s regime.

One of the most marked characteristics of the Irish team certainly since the Giovanni Trapattoni era and to an extent before then, has been conservatism, both in terms of selection and playing style.

For instance, take one decision. Kenny’s call to hand Adam Idah his international debut. The easier choice would have been to rely upon the tried-and-trusted 33-year-old Southampton forward Shane Long, while maybe giving the promising Norwich youngster 10 minutes at the end.

Even at club level, Idah lacks senior experience — starting just one game in the Premier League so far in his career.

It is hard to imagine Messrs Trapattoni, O’Neill or McCarthy making a similar call to Kenny for their first game in charge. 

For those managers, experience at international level felt like the be all and end all. A young Seamus Coleman was controversially left out of Trapattoni’s Euro 2012 squad. O’Neill had a certain cohort of players who seemed virtually undroppable, particularly after Euro 2016. One of the key decisions of the short-lived McCarthy era was the manager’s decision to bring veteran midfielder Glenn Whelan out of international exile.

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Yet Kenny placed faith in the 19-year-old Cork-born forward, who bagged a couple of goals and generally impressed while the pair worked together in the U21 set-up.

The decision didn’t exactly pay off handsomely — Idah worked hard but got little joy up front under difficult circumstances .

Yet it was refreshing purely to see an Irish manager place faith in youth. 

In recent years, the national team’s coaches have been criticised for being too slow to cap promising players.

Matt Doherty, at 28 and having just completed a £15 million move to Spurs, a transfer that made him the third most expensive Irish player ever after Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, won just his 10th cap at international level last night.

Exciting new players became so scarce at one point during the Martin O’Neill era that they were forced to raise the age limit for the Young Player of the Year accolade at the FAI’s annual awards.

The Idah decision was just one of the noticeable differences under Kenny last night.

The style of play wasn’t breathtaking, but it was progressive. It was evolution, not revolution, as Darren Randolph had forecasted earlier in the week.

Per the BBC, the Boys in Green had 63% possession, an unusually high figure for a competitive away match. Their build-up play was more patient than usual, while the high line they deployed was not so prominent during previous regimes.

It would be naive to make any sweeping pronouncements based on one game in which players were patently still to some degree in pre-season mode, but the early signs are promising that Stephen Kenny’s Ireland will indeed not be a team who are dictated by fear.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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