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Kenny yet to settle on his first Irish team as he reports a clean bill of health in Sofia

The new Irish manager has a few final preparations planned before he finally gets his reign underway against Bulgaria tomorrow night.

File photo of Stephen Kenny.
File photo of Stephen Kenny.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY HAS a fully-fit travelling party to select from for tomorrow night’s Uefa Nations League clash with Bulgaria [KO 7.45pm, Sky Sports] but says he has not yet decided on his starting XI. 

“I haven’t, I will do that in due course”, he told the media over Zoom from Sofia this morning. “We’ve been working over the two days on how we’ll play, but no, I have not picked the team yet.” 

The squad was hit by a couple of withdrawals earlier this week – Troy Parrott and Kieran O’Hara have been replaced by Seani Maguire and Caoimhin Kelleher, while it’s hoped David McGoldrick will be fit to link up with the squad ahead of Sunday’s game with Finland – but they have reported a clean bill of health upon arrival in Sofia, meaning James McCarthy is likely to make his first international appearance in almost four years. 

Kenny was coy on his likely team selection, however, although he has indicated he will play with a back four, which leaves him with the now-eternal selection dilemma of picking either Matt Doherty or captain Seamus Coleman at right-back. 

Kenny has been bullish when asked of his ambitions for the Irish team – to change the international perception of the Irish team was his line last week – but admitted today it won’t be achieved overnight. 

“You’re not going to radically change everything in two days, that’s not realistic, but we want to play with confidence – that’s important. We want to have the balance of the team right so that we can be creative and create chances.

stephen-kenny-speaks-to-the-team Kenny with his players at Abbottstown on Monday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The balance of the team is important and we want to have speed in out attack as well. It’s very important that we have speed in our attack, that we’re a real threat when we need to be.” 

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Kenny says he had to modify his training plans slightly earlier this week as he wasn’t expecting so many of his players to complete 90-minute games last Saturday, but has otherwise been impressed by the intensity his players have brought to sessions so far. 

“They seem like great people”, said Kenny of his players. “I wouldn’t take any great credit for bonding the group, there are a lot of really good people, a lot of humility, that’s very evident. All of the staff have commented on that, there is great humility in this group of players.” 

Tomorrow will finally draw to a close Kenny’s long wait to take charge of the senior international team, the game coming 648 days after he first signed a contract with the FAI. He has not yet found too much time for reflection ahead of tomorrow’s kick-off, however. 

“If I took time and reflected on that, there is no doubt that it is [the biggest game of his career] but I haven’t had that period of introspection, I have been focused on the game itself and that’s how I view it.

“We are just preparing the team as best we can, all of the coaching staff have been fantastic, Keith Andrews, Damien Duff and Alan Kelly, really terrific, so we are just focusing on the game itself, how we are going to play, and the challenge of playing in an empty stadium.

“Some of the players have got really used to that, we know it’s not the same – the connection between players and supporters, the energy that brings – but I am not looking at it from my own point of view, I don’t have time for that, We just have to get ready to try and prepare the team and try to perform well.”

The Nations League has a pretty byzantine structure, but the games are significant as they will inform seeding for the World Cup qualifiers later this year along with giving Kenny and his players essential time to work together ahead of next month’s Euro 2020 playoff with Slovakia. 

The players will train at the Stadion Vasil Levski in Sofia later today, ahead of tomorrow night’s kick-off. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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