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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 22 October 2020
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Few changes expected as Kenny makes Aviva bow in strange circumstances

Finland provide the opponents at the Aviva Stadium this evening.

Stephen Kenny.
Stephen Kenny.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

DURING THIS LONG, long runway to a first home game in the job he has craved more than any other, it has been almost cruel to hear Stephen Kenny describe so vividly the experience he is denied. 

“You think of that, coming out to a packed stadium. And the Aviva Stadium isn’t one of those greenfield sites outside of cities, it’s in the middle of the city. People walk to it, when you go to the match there are crowds on both sides of the road….it’s a special place. When there’s a match on, everyone knows about it, the city becomes alive. It’s a powerful thing.” 

At the moment, Dublin is anything but alive: instead it sleeps uneasily, hunkering beneath a gathering pall of foreboding autumn grey. 

Even in a bare and diminished stadium, however, Kenny knows his team can lift the gloomy mood. They even did so before they kicked off in Bulgaria on Thursday by reminding us all of the simple dignity of having something to look forward to. 

Once the game actually started, the practice of overhauling Ireland’s football image came a little less naturally than the preaching.

Ireland did show a desire to pass the ball in Sofia and they largely avoided knocking it long to nobody, but they lacked craft in tight attacking areas and the hitherto solid defence looked rickety in a new system. 

Today is a chance to put those problems right, as with relatively little time between now and the Euro 2020 play-off with Slovakia next month, Kenny is unlikely to make sweeping changes to the team for a Nations League meeting with Finland. 

Speaking yesterday, Kenny praised the individual performances of each of his four defenders in Bulgaria while admitting their cohesion as a collective left room for improvement, and so they’ll likely be given the benefit of another start together. 

James McCarthy retains the staunch backing of his manager – “a really, really exceptional player” – remained Kenny’s verdict yesterday, and he may start again, in spite of his rustiness in Sofia.

In truth, Ireland lack alternatives to McCarthy at the base of midfield, with the bulk of the options coming in front of him, where Robbie Brady, Harry Arter, Alan Browne, and Jayson Molumby are all vying for a spot ahead of Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane. 

Kenny praised his players’ passing in Sofia while acknowledging they needed to be more penetrative, comparing Ireland’s 91% pass completion rate with their paucity of goalscoring chances. 

“You should only go backward or sidewards as your last option. You should always look forward first.” 

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In this context, Brady may well be best-suited to earn a starting spot, while Molumby might be in contention for a senior debut, with Kenny on record praising the “chaos” he brings in attacking areas.

jayson-molumby Jayson Molumby in Irish training this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

 

David McGoldrick, meanwhile, has linked up with the squad having been troubled by a foot problem, but won’t start as the injury curtailed much of his pre-season. Callum Robinson is probably best-positioned to start if Kenny decides to freshen his front three. 

Finland arrive having already qualified for Euro 2020, finishing behind Italy but ahead of Greece and Bosnia. Teemu Pukki scored 10 times in qualifying – more than the entire Irish squad managed – and he will likely lead the line this evening. Finland are behind Ireland in the Nations League after the opening round of games, mind, having lost 1-0 to Wales on Thursday night. 

Given the last three years have largely been a series of games with Georgia, Denmark, and Wales, Finland are a relatively novel opponent: today’s will be the first meeting of the sides since a 3-0 Irish friendly win in August 2002, a game in which Colin Healy scored and a result that gave a false sense of the country’s ability to move on from the saga of S****n.

Ireland are truly moving on under Kenny now, or are at least trying to. And although the circumstances of this evening will be alien and strange and deeply unsatisfactory, Kenny isn’t complaining. 

“You have to make the best of everything you can, rather than being subdued.” 

A useful message for his players, too. 

Republic of Ireland (Possible XI): Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, John Egan, Enda Stevens; James McCarthy, Jayson Molumby, Robbie Brady; Callum O’Dowda, Adam Idah, Aaron Connolly

KO 5pm; TV: Sky Sports Football

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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