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Kenny leaves door open to playing Doherty and Coleman in the same team

Stephen Kenny spoke to the press today as he announced a 25-man squad for an upcoming triple-header, one of which is the Euros play-off with Slovakia.

Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman.
Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Sep 29th 2020, 5:07 PM

SOME THINGS DON’T change, as Stephen Kenny today faced a series of questions about the right-backs that pose his most notable selection dilemma. 

Kenny picked Matt Doherty for his first couple of games in charge earlier this month, with Seamus Coleman retaining both the captaincy and a place on the bench. Ever since, Doherty has been somewhat slow to grow accustomed to his new surroundings at Tottenham while Coleman has been in superb form for Everton, linking up with James Rodriguez and likened by his manager to Paolo Maldini. 

Kenny says he is entirely unaffected by the clatter of external noise about the selection call.

“What anyone else thinks is irrelevant. That’s how I view it”, said Kenny at a press conference today. 

One way around the decision is not to make it; pick them both in the same team. Mick McCarthy tried this, but only once and half-heartedly, picking both in his 4-3-3 formation away to Gibraltar in March 2019. Doherty was subbed before the hour mark, McCarthy admitted after the game it didn’t work and he never tried it again. 

When asked today, Kenny was unequivocal as to whether Doherty and Coleman can play in the same team. 

“Do you think Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty can play in the same team?” 

“I do.” 

Although Kenny repeated he is open to changing his 4-3-3 system, there isn’t much time to do so ahead of the Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia on Thursday week. Kenny has very little time to prepare for that game, with 11 of his squad set to play league games on Sunday, which will rule them out of doing a full training session with the Irish camp on Monday.

stephen-kenny Kenny meets the press at Abbottstown today. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

That leaves a session on Tuesday before they fly out to Bratislava for Thursday’s game, which will go to penalties if needed to pick a winner and an opponent for either Bosnia or Northern Ireland in the play-off final next month. 

Kenny was complimentary about Coleman’s form at Everton, but was also positive about Doherty’s improving match-fitness. 

“Seamus has been a great captain for Ireland and a great player and has started the season well, Matt finished the season brilliantly with Wolves, scored quite a number of goals. In the last games for us he was in preseason mode and I thought his best game for Tottenham was last weekend, he really looked back to himself. That bodes well.” 

The Slovakia tie presages a Nations League double-header with Wales and Finland, with Kenny swelling his his squad by two to 25 players in recognition of the increased demand. Robbie Brady and Callum O’Dowda are both included in spite of recent injuries. Brady missed Burnley’s loss to Southampton with a rib injury while O’Dowda has returned to training having not played since hurting himself in the Nations League loss to Finland at the start of the month. 

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“We can’t say with any real certainty that they will both be okay”, said Kenny, “but there is some distance between now and meeting up on Sunday so we will see how that goes.” 

Jack Byrne is called up having been left out of the last squad, along with Blackburn defender Derrick Williams. Troy Parrott misses out with injury, while defender Dara O’Shea is left out with an eye on the U21s crucial qualifier away to Italy on 13 October. Sean Maguire, called up as a replacement for Parrott in the last squad, is left out again. 

“We’ve increased the squad from 23 to 25 as we have three games. Jack has played quite well, he did well against AC Milan and he followed that up with two goals at the weekend [against Dundalk.] He’s in the squad on merit.

“He is a very, very good player. He is different, he has a range of passes, which is very interesting and very effective. He has good vision and is a talented midfielder player.”

Kenny spoke highly of the club form of his forwards Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson, but of more importance is the fact most of his players have been playing at club level over the last three weeks. 

“I’m much happier now as in the last window, for example, Shane Duffy had played one league game for Brighton in nine months. He went from January to September having played one game, against Liverpool.

“We had a lot of players who hadn’t played much football, and now we have a number of players who are playing a lot of games. They are going into this window off the back of five or six 90 minutes – not everyone, some of the players – and that’s a much better situation.” 

Ireland have had plenty of safety nets in their attempt to qualify for Euro 2020 – they’ve earned this play-off thanks to a Nations League campaign under Martin O’Neill – but next Thursday is finally do-or-die territory. Lose, and Ireland won’t be at the delayed European Championships. Win, and then it’s onto a final with either Bosnia or Northern Ireland for a spot at the Championships. 

“I think it’s a tough game. I think Slovakia were very unfortunate not to qualify themselves. They played very well, [qualifying] games home and away to Wales and Hungary are very interesting for me.

“The games with Wales and Hungary are the measuring points for us, to see their strengths. They had a lot of possession over those games. They are a good team. From our point of view, as a nation, we’ve not won an away game against a significant nation in quite a few years. 

“It’s something we have to do, something extraordinary, and we will have to rally around each other to produce a big performance in Slovakia. It will be tough. Slovakia, being at home, will be favourites, but from our point of view, the great thing about the last window was we were able to increase our options in midfield and in the forward areas.

“We saw what worked and what didn’t, we have a clear idea of what we want in the game against Slovakia, so we’ll be ready.”

Kenny’s preparations for the game has annexed most of his time, it seems, as he confirmed when asked at the press conference that he hasn’t had the time to read Champagne Football, Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan’s remarkable expose of his employers and former boss. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from FAI HQ, Abbottstown

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