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'We are way behind in this country but I don’t think that is conflicting with hosting Euro '28'

Ireland senior men’s manager Stephen Kenny supports the FAI’s co-hosting of the 2028 European Championships.

Stephen Kenny.
Stephen Kenny.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY SAYS Ireland’s incipient co-hosting of Euro 2028 need not mean the domestic game in Ireland is overlooked. 

The FAI have joined a bid involving the four UK associations to host the 2028 Euros, having switched tack from the initial aim to bid for the 2030 World Cup. The Euros bid now looks it will be successful by default, with no other association emerging as a rival bidder. 

The bid was announced last month, hours before the FAI launched their strategy document for the domestic game, and was met by criticism stating that the new FAI were slipping into the failings of old by prioritising high-profile, international events rather than investing all of their time and resources into upgrading ramshackle League of Ireland facilities. 

Stephen Kenny was asked for his opinion on it all when he faced the media today, ahead of Saturday’s friendly with Belgium. 

“I think it’s good news overall. I think it’s positive to have the European Championships in Ireland, that is a good news story and I’m sure the Irish supporters will look forward to having a games in the country.” 

He was also asked about that above criticism, expressed by – in the words of the Sky Sports reporter asking the question – “sceptics.”

“They are not sceptics, it’s a point of view, which I respect”, replied Kenny. “I don’t necessarily think they are conflicting, I would say that the infrastructure in this country is nowhere near where it needs to be. It needs serious government investment and the the Taoiseach has acknowledged that, and said publicly that he wants to investment in academies Ireland.

“I know that there are programmes for clubs to try to increase the infrastructure because we are way behind the rest of Europe in relation to stadium facilities. We are way behind in this country, we know that, but I don’t think that is necessarily conflicting with hosting Euro 28. 

“Ultimately, Euro 28 is a money generator for the economy, isn’t it? I don’t know what is involved with the finance, I have no idea what it is costing or how much it is, I wouldn’t know. I’m not qualified to speak in regard to the exact figures involved.” 

It was subsequently pointed out that, were Croke Park to host games – as would be highly likely if the tournament is expanded to 32 teams – that it would in fact be a GAA facility, rather than a football ground, that would be upgraded. 

“It’s a valid point, that is valid, I’m not going to argue against it”, said Kenny. “I don’t know how much money would be involved, it’s not something I’ve focused on in any great detail. I think the Irish football public would enjoy the experience, they would want to be a part of it, but it is years away. Do I want all the resources to be focused on that and away from all the other aspects of football in Ireland? No I don’t, of course not.

“That’s not the question. Can they coexist, can we continue to grow football at all levels in the country and the league and still have Euro 2028 as a separate entity and something to look forward to in several years time? Possibly. That’s the way I see it.” 

Asked whether he would like to see the tournament expand from 24 to 32 teams, Kenny picked the pragmatic option, saying “it would be foolish for me to be against a 32-team competition.”

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europe-news-march-18-2022 Belgian manager Roberto Martinez. Source: Virginie Lefour

Of more immediate concern is qualification for Euro 2024 in Germany, and the first step on that long road will be taken in a friendly international against Belgium on Saturday. Kenny spoke last year of wishing to face an elite opponent in this international window as preparation for this year’s Nations League campaign, and while Belgium are the top-ranked side in the world, manager Roberto Martinez is restricting himself to a squad consisting of players with 50 caps or fewer. Hence Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens, and Eden Hazard are absent. 

“I think that the players we’re missing probably have a greater effect than the players they’re missing”, replied the Irish boss when asked if he was disappointed that Belgium are not bringing their strongest selection to town. 

“We’re missing Adam Idah, Andrew Omobamidele, Enda Stevens who are frontline players for us. Callum O’Dowda is obviously missing. All of their players are from top teams in the European leagues. Like, Lukaku isn’t fit, so they have a choice Batshuayi, Origi or Benteke as their first number 9, and only one of them will play.

“So they’ve got that right throughout the team. Boyata would come in at the back, but he’s not a young player, he’s 31 and Jason Denayer. So those players will come in and they’ve already played in major tournaments.

“OK, Kevin de Bruyne is a world-class player and is great to watch, it would be great for the Irish public to see him because he is a real special talent. But certainly, they have a formidable team, a world number one team, and a formidable strength in depth and we’re aware of that, and we don’t, we have emerging players.

“So the players that we’re missing have an equal effect of the players they’re missing from their team.”

Ireland will also be missing Blackburn defender Darragh Lenihan: he has returned to Blackburn having sustained a groin tear. Nobody has yet been called up to replace him, though QPR defender Jimmy Dunne is on standby. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from FAI HQ, Abbottstown

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