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Kenny: Much more to come from 'really exceptional' James McCarthy

David McGoldrick, meanwhile, is unlikely to start against Finland tomorrow evening.

James McCarthy, during the 1-1 draw with Bulgaria on Thursday.
James McCarthy, during the 1-1 draw with Bulgaria on Thursday.
Image: Kostadin Andonov/INPHO

JAMES MCCARTHY’S PERFORMANCE in Sofia on Thursday night may have divided opinion, but Stephen Kenny’s glowing appraisal of his midfielder remains undimmed. 

Kenny referred to McCarthy last week as having the potential to be the best Irish midfielder of his generation, and largely retained that opinion this afternoon, ahead of tomorrow’s Nations League meeting with Finland at the Aviva Stadium [KO 5pm, Sky Sports].

“James is a really, really exceptional player: he’s got a brilliant range of passing, he’s got every pass you need for a midfield player”, said Kenny. “Plus, he also offers protection to the back four. He reads it so well and he’s quick over the ground. He’s a really good player but he’s in pre-season, and we have to manage James as well, you have to be cognisant of that. It is early for him, he hasn’t played a league game yet.

“There’s certainly more to come from James.” 

All 25 members of his squad trained today and all are available for selection tomorrow evening, with the last round of Covid-19 tests returning a clean sweep of negative results. 

David McGoldrick has joined up with the squad having missed the game in Sofia, although Kenny says he won’t start as a foot injury curtailed much of his pre-season. 

It seems Kenny will resist making too many changes to his side for tomorrow’s game, and while he acknowledged the need to freshen things up, he spoke more often of the need for continuity given this is his last game before the Euro 2020 play-off with Slovakia next month. 

Midfield is probably the most likely place for rotation, with Kenny saying it’s important to get a look at Harry Arter and Jayson Molumby, given neither has played at senior international level of late. 

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“It is important we have options, in international football you ever know who might be injured or who is available from one window to the next, so it is important we know we have options, so we will have to wait and see on that.”

Kenny was broadly happy with Thursday’s performance, though says his team needs more cutting edge in attack. 

“The players did really, really, well overall. I can’t ask any more in terms of how they apply themselves. It’s not something I’m fixated on, but we had 91% pass completion and what we need to improve on is to play more penetrative passes, to try and open defences. We’ve analysed that and looked at our play. That’s one area we need to improve on.” 

Tomorrow offers Kenny a chance to earn his first win as Irish boss and Ireland’s first-ever win in the Nations League. 

“We respect Finland, they’ve qualified for the Euros, from a group with Italy, Bosnia, and Greece. To qualify is a great achievement, we have respect for that. We’ll have to fight hard tomorrow, it’s a very important game for us, our first game in the Aviva Stadium. We want to start well and we will be determined to try and do that.

“We’ll have to earn it. Finland rested some players against Wales that we expect to come back into the team. They’ve had a great campaign. They are where we want to be, they are in Euros, that is our ambition to get there.”

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Gavin Cooney

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