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Kenny says qualification for Euros would be an 'extraordinary achievement'

The Irish boss nonetheless says his side won’t be cautious in Thursday’s playoff against Slovakia.

Stephen Kenny speaks to the press.
Stephen Kenny speaks to the press.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated Oct 5th 2020, 8:00 AM

STEPHEN KENNY ISN’T easily given to pessimism and expectation management, but he admits that qualifying for the European Championships would be an “extraordinary achievement.” 

Victory in Thursday’s one-legged play-off away to Slovakia would not even guarantee Ireland a spot at the delayed Euros next year, but would instead send them through to next month’s final against either Bosnia or Northern Ireland.

“We know the opportunity that does exist and the possibility of the European Championships in Ireland is unique, really. It’s never happened before and may never happen again, we don’t know, so there’s that kind of motivation to lift the country. It would be an incredible experience for the whole country.

“But we’re a long way away from that because we’ve got a tough game in Slovakia and that’s only a semi-final, so we’re a long way away from that. We’ve got to do something extraordinary and win away from home again, and we’re planning with everything we have to try to achieve that.” 

Kenny is in charge of a group of players who have hardly made a habit of beating reasonably highly-ranked opponents away from home. Since Martin O’Neill’s side beat Wales 1-0 in 2017 to qualify for the World Cup play-offs, Ireland have won a single competitive game away from home, and that was against Gibraltar. 

In fact, in the five years that have passed since Euro 2016, Ireland have won four competitive games away from home, beating Moldova, Austria and Wales under Martin O’Neill and Gibraltar under Mick McCarthy. 

Kenny says his players can’t be too encumbered by that poor underwhelming run, although did hint that it can be righted by his side being more proactive in their approach. 

“It’s not a concern for me, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can only approach the game itself on its merits. We can’t hide from that fact, and there must be a reason. We have got to be positive in our approach, and not reactive. 

“We have to be positive in our approach, and it is significant we haven’t won many away games against significant nations in many years. We have got to change that and try to address that, and try and get that victory.” 

Kenny sees Slovakia as a possession-based team, and says his team will aim to dominate the ball too. “We’ll approach the game in a positive frame of mind. We’re unlikely to be cautious, I would say that.” 

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Home advantage isn’t quite what it once was, either, given the game will be played in an empty stadium. “We’d all rather be at home rather than away, regardless. People are happier in familiar surroundings, and not having to travel. That has to be a plus. But not having passionate support does mitigate against that somewhat.”

He will be without his captain Seamus Coleman, who has pulled out with injury, having strained his hamstring giving chase to Aaron Connolly in a Premier League game for Everton on Saturday. Cyrus Christie has been drafted in as a replacement.

Darragh Lenihan is out of the squad with a knee injury and has been replaced by Burnley’s Kevin Long, while there is concern about Harry Arter, who was withdrawn from Nottingham Forest’s defeat to Bristol City with a thigh problem.

Callum O’Dowda was an unused sub for Bristol in that game and Kenny expects him to be fit for Ireland in spite of having not played since the Nations League defeat to Finland last month, while Jack Byrne and Robbie Brady are fit to link up with the squad, too. 

The hectic run of club games since Kenny last worked with the squad has yielded a few positives too, with the manager happy that James McCarthy has been a regular presence in the Crystal Palace midfield and praised Shane Duffy’s form for Celtic. 

That his squad will be match-sharp will make a difference.  

“Against Finland, we tired for certain in the last 20 minutes in that midfield area, just because it was in pre-season and players hadn’t played games. That was certainly a pre-season moment.

“But a lot of the layers have played a lot of games since then and I don’t see that as a factor at all.”

Kenny has a very compressed time with which to work with his players ahead of Thursday’s game. With 11 of the squad involved in league games yesterday, some will only link up to the squad this afternoon. Kenny says Tuesday is the critical day training-wise, and even that will be disrupted by the flight to Bratislava. 

“There’s not much time to prepare but that’s not an excuse. That’s the situation we’re in and we have to adapt, we’re not complaining about that. It’s where we are. We have to adapt, and in the meeting rooms and speaking to people individually, we have clear instructions and there will be no grey areas in relation to what’s expected of anyone. There are challenges, we have to adapt and we will adapt.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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