'We want to play but we won’t be taking stupid risks' - Evolution not revolution under Kenny, says Randolph

The Irish squad trained under their new manager for the first time today, ahead of a Uefa Nations League meeting with Bulgaria on Thursday.

Darren Randolph trains today.
Darren Randolph trains today.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Aug 31st 2020, 6:55 PM

645 DAYS AFTER he first signed a contract with the FAI and 149 days after that succession plan was brought forward, Stephen Kenny today took his first Irish senior training at Abbottstown. 

Kenny spoke with his customary ambition yesterday when he said his aim is to “in changing the way Irish football is viewed worldwide”, and today he got his first chance to start laying the framework for that change. 

“Putting it simply, he wants to be a possession-based team”, goalkeeper Darren Randolph told a press conference today. “He wants us to show off more our talent and ability, and be brave on the ball.” 

The squad assembled last night and met over dinner at the team hotel in Portmarnock, and although there were no initiation songs from the new players or, indeed, the new manager, Kenny spelled out what he wants from his players ahead of Thursday’s Nations League tie away to Bulgaria. 

“Yesterday was more of an introduction day”, said Randolph. “There were lots of new faces player-wise and staff wise. So we were just getting to know everybody and who does what job. As I said earlier, there was a meeting with the manager about what he expects and what he believes we can achieve as a group, and the belief he has in us and what we can do.”

That Ireland get the ball down and play a little bit more is the technical part of the more intangible change Kenny wants to see from his Irish team. 

“He spoke about basically having more belief in ourselves, having more confidence and going out there and playing probably more on the front foot”, said Randolph.

“Instead of kind of just sitting back and inviting pressure, he said why don’t we go and put the pressure on other teams higher up the pitch, try not to be negative and start thinking positively?” 

This may, of course, necessitate a change in Randolph’s game – if Ireland are to build from the back, he will likely spend a lot more time with the ball at his feet, which, he says, he is comfortable with. 

stephen-kenny-speaks-to-the-team Stephen Kenny speaks with his Irish players. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kenny took the bulk of today’s session, said Randolph, supported by Keith Andrews and Damien Duff, who did much of his work with the attackers. Randolph, meanwhile, worked with goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly, who retains the role having worked under Mick McCarthy. 

As Randolph acknowledges, Kenny has just two sessions in Dublin ahead of his opening game in Bulgaria on Thursday, so this may be an evolution rather than a revolution. 

“By me saying we are going to play out from the back, some of your colleagues or the public might think we’re going to start playing like Barcelona, or Man City. Yeah, we want to play, but we won’t be taking stupid risks. It’s international football, there’s stuff to play for. 

“Yes we want to be a possession-based team and we want to try different things, but it won’t be anything ridiculous. There will be a slight change in what people are used to seeing.” 

Randolph is expected to keep his place as Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper in Sofia on Thursday and although he has not played a competitive first-team game for West Ham since January, he says he feels sharp. 

“I’ve had a few games in pre-season, so I’ve had a couple of games coming into this camp. I’m no different to anyone else who has had time off and had a few pre-season games.”

The Bulgaria game – along with Sunday’s clash with Finland -  will be played behind closed doors, and although a diminished experience, Randolph says the absence of a crowd should not leave the players wanting for motivation. 

“When you’re going into international games, Nations League games and eventually the qualifying game against Slovakia with no fans, you have to kind of look past that at the bigger picture and that should be motivation enough.

“As the manager said in the meeting, the things this group could achieve over the next few years should be enough incentive anyway to go out there and deliver and put in a shift and put on a show.” 

The Irish squad trained at Abbottstown this morning, with St Pats’ trio Lee Desmond, Shane Griffin, and Conor Kearns joining in to make up numbers, while following rules and avoiding close interaction with the squad away from the pitch so as not to breach the squad’s “bubble.” 

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The players have been tested twice-weekly for Covid at their clubs and that regimen is being continued in international camp, They have been given an exemption by the Irish government to avoid quarantining upon arrival from the UK and, later this week, from Bulgaria. 

Goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara has been forced out through injury, with Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher promoted from the U21 squad to senior set-up as a replacement. 

Meanwhile, James McCarthy trained today having initially been a doubt with a leg injury. 

james-mccarthy James McCarthy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kenny has spoken highly of McCarthy, and he looks set to make a first international appearance in four years on Thursday night. 

“It’s a little bit like having a new player in”, says Randolph of McCarthy’s return. “We were sitting at dinner yesterday and we were laughing and joking – the last time James was in, most of the boys now that have 10, 20 caps weren’t in the squad when James was last in the squad.

“But having someone like him back in the squad, back playing, back in form with his experience is only going to be a lift, a bonus for the group, for the squad.” 

 Updated at 18.55 to include details of Caoimhin Kellehers call-up. 

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Gavin Cooney

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