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Stephen Kenny: Ireland can't dwell on loss of Rice and Grealish against England

The Irish boss also spoke of what he can do to prevent Irish underage players defecting to other nations in the future.

Declan Rice sings the English national anthem ahead of a 2019 international at Wembley.
Declan Rice sings the English national anthem ahead of a 2019 international at Wembley.
Image: Nick Potts

THURSDAY’S INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLY at Wembley may feature a couple of familiar faces, with Declan Rice and Jack Grealish included in the England squad for the game.

Grealish and Rice played for Irish at various underage levels for Ireland up to U21 level while Rice also played three times for the Irish senior squad before both decided to represent the country of their birth.

Stephen Kenny, however, is not spending any time wondering what might have been had the Premier League duo stuck with Ireland.

“They are obviously both very good players. I’m very happy with the players we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of talent coming through. We’re got a lot of young players, a lot of talent and we’re not far away from being a very good side. 

“I can’t worry about other players who could have been part of the equation. They are obviously good players but we can’t dwell on that and we have to look forward and see what other players are coming through and will emerge.” 

In an interview with Eamon Dunphy last year, Kenny spoke of his belief that Rice and Grealish would still be involved with Ireland had they been promoted to the senior set-up earlier as a result of better co-ordination with the underage ranks. 

jack-grealish-celebrates-scoring Jack Grealish, celebrating a goal for the Irish U21s in 2013. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

When he was asked today what he could do to prevent Irish underage players defecting to England in the future, he was less specific and spoke in broad terms about the issue he identified last year. 

“I can’t make promises that I may not be able to fulfill. What we can do is try to make the environment at all ages and levels as professional as possible, and make sure there is a clear pathway between U15s and the senior international team. 

“To make sure that if players are exceptional they move up the ages quicker to accelerate their development. I think that’s very important. If players can play at U21 level at 17 and they excel, well then they can become first team players soon enough.

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“Really that’s how I see it. Try and create an environment that players can really identify with, an identity for the Irish team. To be fair, all the players really love playing for Ireland at all the age groups.

“There can be some misinformation nowadays that players are not as committed. That is not what I experienced when I came in. I found that when players were left out of squads they were genuinely devastated. They were desperate to play.” 

Thursday’s friendly with England prefaces the closing Uefa Nations League games with Wales and Bulgaria, and answered a question as to whether he would be experimenting in the first game by pointing out the number of players he has picked in his five games thus far. 

“We have been experimenting. We have used a lot of players in those early games that will stand us in good stead in the World Cup qualifiers in March. Jayson Molumby has made his debut, Jason Knight, Dara O’Shea, Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah too, so there have been a lot of players who have come in and got experience which we will reap the benefits of in the World Cup qualifiers in March. 

“There is no point blooding them then, in the campaign. Certainly they are getting an opportunity now and some have shown they are very capable and will be part of the future for Ireland, for sure.” 

With Seamus Coleman fit having missed the October internationals, Kenny talked of how he may fit both into the same team, something he sees possible not only in a 3-5-2 formation but also a 4-2-3-1, the system Ireland used for much of last month’s Euro 2020 playoff with Slovakia. 

Matt Doherty played on the left-sided centre back for a lot of the game against Wales, that was obviously due to a lot of injuries, and Seamus has played on the right side of a back three for Everton. They can both play along the right side, though maybe not in a 4-3-3. When we played 4-3-3 earlier, your wide players are supporting the striker, making runs across the line and being dynamic, playing narrow and so forth. 

“But in an orthodox 4-3-2-1 they can both play on the right, for sure.” 

The Irish squad are gathering in London today, where they will base themselves ahead of the England game. The only injury concern so far is Enda Stevens, who will be assessed having sustained a knee injury playing for Sheffield United against Chelsea yesterday. 


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Gavin Cooney

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