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'Michael has to go into the U21s and do well at that level' - Kenny explains Obafemi absence after pointed tweet

The Southampton striker has publicly aired his grievance at being left out of the squad for upcoming games with Bulgaria and Finland.

STEPHEN KENNY’S FIRST Irish squad announcement was accompanied by a ripple of discontent coming from Michael Obafemi’s Twitter account. 

Obafemi, capped once at senior level for Ireland under Martin O’Neill, was excluded from today’s squad for upcoming Uefa Nations League games with Bulgaria and Finland. 

The 20-year-old tweeted “disgrace” but promptly deleted it, following it up with a less direct “Interesting” accompanied with a couple of puzzled emojis. 

Speaking to the media today, Kenny explained that Obafemi remains in contention for future senior squads and that his exclusion from this one was a tactical decision. Kenny’s Ireland are likely to play with a single striker in a front three, he explained, whereas Obafemi has been playing as part of a front two at Southampton. 

“Michael is a great lad”, said Kenny. “I think he’s been playing in a front two a lot, he’s still learning the position playing wider. That’s something he’s still coming to terms with. He’s in a much better physical condition at the moment, Michael has a very good future ahead of himself. I hope he goes into the U21 squad and does well now at that level and hopefully gets into the Southampton team.

“The manager at Southampton, Ralph Hassenhutl, has been brilliant for him. Michael didn’t make this squad, but squads are evolving and changing. We do play with one lone central striker and he’s not played that role that much because his team play with a two.

“It is a different position. He has played wide with Southampton on occasion, he’s still learning that one. I see him as a striker and he’s someone who hopefully has a big future with Ireland.” 

Kenny did not make contact with Obafemi to explain his exclusion. During the early weeks of the lockdown, Kenny made contact with players who had made previous senior squads under Mick McCarthy, though Obafemi wasn’t on this list. 

“He hasn’t been in any of the previous squads in the last campaign. I spoke to all the players who were in the squad in the last campaign, even those who were omitted from the last few squads. But Michael wasn’t in any of them. Michael has to go into the U21s and do well at that level.”

One player who has returned to the squad is James McCarthy, who hasn’t played for Ireland since 2016. He has endured and recovered from a horror leg break in that time, but did not appear under the last regime in spite of returning to regular game time with Crystal Palace. 

stephen-kenny Stephen Kenny speaks to the media earlier today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kenny says McCarthy, now 29, has his best years in front of him, once he plays with the Irish attack in front of him. 

“He is someone who is extremely talented. He has an exceptional range of passing. I don’t think we have utilised him in his best position a lot. We haven’t utilised his talent overall and injuries have prevented him becoming sort of regarded as the best midfield player of the generation which in my mind he is.

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“He’s only 29 now so even some of his best performances might be ahead of him if he can stay fit. If we can get him facing the goal and get the ball to him in midfield with the speed that we’ve got, attacking options and the speed, it could be a good combination.”

McCarthy’s best position, elaborated Kenny, is the centre of a midfield three. 

“He needs that space to receive the ball and really utilise his range of passing. In a midfield three in the centre is where I think he is utilised the best.

“In the last few years he has been [Ireland's] most expressive passer, you know? Maybe because he has been the second midfielder he can’t go deep to get it.

“There’s bodies in the area, it’s congested, he’s having to play it backward and go long so it has been hard for him. Injuries have obviously interrupted. It is just one of those unfortunate situations. There is more to come from James.”

Glenn Whelan has not made the cut, though Kenny said this does not signal the end of his international career. Meanwhile, there are no League of Ireland players included in the squad and Kenny said this was his judgment call and not informed by any potential quarantine restrictions they would face on their return. 

Kenny confirmed Jack Byrne is on standby, and also name-checked Graham Burke and Michael Duffy as being in his thoughts. 

Unlike his predecessor, Kenny has decided against naming a vast provisional squad, instead releasing his final, 23-man squad. This is his preferred way of doing things but is also a consequence of Uefa’s terms and conditions of playing away from home in a pandemic, as the Irish travelling party is limited to a maximum of 45 people. 

Jayson Molumby and Adam Idah earn a promotion to the senior squad from the U21 squad, with Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott also selected. Alan Judge, Scott Hogan, Josh Cullen and Sean Maguire are among other notable absentees. 

The Irish squad will be allowed to travel back from the UK without the need to quarantine having been granted an exemption by the Irish government. The squad will train on Sunday and Monday at Abbottstown before flying to Sofia on Tuesday afternoon ahead of Thursday’s game. 

That Bulgaria game is behind closed doors, as is the home tie with Finland on Sunday, 6 September. 

Kenny confirmed Ciaran Clark missed out on a place in the squad through injury, while Burnley’s Kevin Long is among the players on standby. 

 Republic of Ireland Squad 

Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham United), Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Kieran O’Hara (unattached)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers).
Midfielders: James McCarthy (Crystal Palace), Harry Arter (Fulham), Jeff Hendrick (unattached), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Jayson Molumby (Brighton and Hove Albion), Robbie Brady (Burnley).
Forwards: Callum Robinson (Sheffield United), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), James McClean (Stoke City), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur – on loan at Millwall), Shane Long (Southampton).

Note: David McGoldrick (Sheffield United) will join the squad for the Finland game.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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