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Stephen Kenny promises 'very positive' approach ahead of qualifier debut with Irish U21s

The new manager begins his reign at Tallaght Stadium this Sunday.

Stephen Kenny at a press conference today.
Stephen Kenny at a press conference today.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY SAYS that his Irish U21s will approach Sunday’s European Championship qualifier with Luxembourg with a positive mindset, the ambition being to give his attacking players a platform from which to catch the eye. 

“We won’t be lacking confidence”, said Kenny. “We will be very positive in our approach.

“For our attacking players, we want to create an environment in which they can flourish. That’s the important part of it for me.” 

The squad has been depleted on that front, however. Simon Power, on loan at FC Dordrecht, has been ruled out with a calf issue, with Troy Parrott also sidelined with injury. Kenny is also without Brighton’s Aaron Connolly and Southampton’s Michael Obafemi. 

Troy Parrott Troy Parrott has been ruled out of Sunday's qualifier through injury. Source: Simon Stacpoole/INPHO

Shamrock Rovers’ Brandon Kavanagh has been added to the squad in Power’s absence, with Kenny’s alternative options up front Norwich City’s Adam Idah along with Neil Farrugia, Zach Elbouzedi, Michael O’Connor and Aaron Drinian, all of whom were involved in the brief February camp. 

Kenny kept shtum on the formation we are likely to see on Sunday, instead elaborating on what he is demanding of the players in training this week. 

“A lot of the players haven’t played together before. We promoted five players from the U19s, and some from the U18s.

“Also, we have some players in the squad who have never been capped at any level.

“So we are working to formulate a team, and make sure we are absolutely ready for Sunday.

“We want every player comfortable in possession. We want maximum width in our passing; our back four to make the pitch as big as we can.

The rotation of the midfield is very important, we want our midfield to be fluid and to switch positions. These are important aspects of how we play, and it’s about finding combinations between full backs and wingers; midfield players and forwards.

“Just to have that connection, so to practise that in training and bring it into the game on Sunday.” 

Ireland have never reached a major tournament at U21 level, and although they kick off their campaign with a home game against the group’s bottom seeds, Kenny is refusing to label it as must-win. 

“I don’t think we are at the stage where any game is must-win.

“On the face of it you might think that’s a game you’d want to start with, but that’s dangerous thinking. I’ve looked at their games and they have 15 players available who played in the last campaign, which is most unusual.

They beat Bulgaria 1-0, the played a good French team with Moussa Dembele and lots of good players, and lost 3-2 having been two up. It was also 2-0 in France, with the second goal coming in the 90th minute. 

“They have a good team, some players in the Bundesliga.” 

There are eight League of Ireland players in the squad in all (Darragh Leahy, Liam Scales, Jamie Lennon and Dan Mandriou to go along with Farrugia, Elbouzedi, Kavanagh, and Drinan), and Kenny agrees it is vital the domestic league is seen as a viable pathway to international football. 

“It’s probably never been more important.

“There are different ways players can develop. Some can go away at 15 and have an amazing experience in their academies and become international players.

“That’s happening less and less now, and we have to acknowledge that as a nation and as a federation.

“It has been well documented that a number of players have come through the league to become senior internationals in recent years, and I’m sure there will be more in years to come.

“There’s not one way pathway to become a senior international, and it’s important that the eight nine players are there on merit.

“[Their inclusion] is based on the skill levels they have and the potential that they have.”

The game kicks off at 5pm at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday. 

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Gavin Cooney

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