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Dublin: 7°C Monday 1 March 2021

Stephen Kenny backs 17-year-old Spurs striker Parrott to 'come alive' in Tallaght tonight

Ireland face Armenia in a European Championship qualifier this evening.

Troy Parrott pictured training during the week.
Troy Parrott pictured training during the week.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

IT’S AN IMPORTANT few days for Stephen Kenny and his Ireland U21 team.

Following their routine opening qualification win over Luxembourg back in March, they are preparing for what will likely be tougher tests.

Tonight, they host Armenia at Tallaght Stadium, before they travel to face Sweden in Kalmar on 10 September.

Around 4,000 fans are expected in Tallaght this evening, and there is one player in particular that the home crowd will be looking forward to seeing.

Troy Parrott is currently making waves at Tottenham. Last week, Mauricio Pochettino confirmed he was the club’s back-up striker to Harry Kane following Fernando Llorente’s departure. And on Wednesday, the Dubliner was named in Spurs’ Champions League squad.

Injuries previously prevented Parrott from making his debut at U21 level for Ireland, but he is expected to feature tonight in the Boys in Green’s second game of the qualification campaign.

“He flew in at 1am Sunday night,” Kenny says. “Tottenham were playing and his flight was delayed. It’s hard getting out to the hotel and back to Abbotstown to train.

“Every day, he’s got a greater understanding of what we’re looking for.

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“They may be asked to do one thing with their club, asked to play a certain way, whereas we could be asking them to do something different.

“He trained well today and he’ll come alive on match night. Certainly if there’s a good crowd and atmosphere here, he’ll come alive. He’s very proud to play for Ireland.”

Parrott had previously been called into the provisional Irish senior squad. He has since reverted to the U21s, but Mick McCarthy has left open the possibility of him returning to the squad. He could yet figure in the friendly against Bulgaria on Tuesday, though a senior debut would mean missing out on the U21 team’s crucial upcoming qualifier with Sweden.

Kenny, though, was unwilling to speculate on the possibility of Parrott earning a promotion to the senior squad.

We honestly haven’t had that discussion. He is in the squad and I haven’t heard [anything]. A lot can happen between the matches — injuries and so on. So we’ll just have to wait and see. I am not aware of any alternative arrangements.”

Ireland will need Parrott to be at his best against the Armenians, who are expected to sit deep and play a 4-5-1 formation intended to afford Ireland’s attackers as little space as possible.

Parrott is far from the only talented forward Kenny has to choose from, however.
Adam Idah (Norwich City), Jonathan Afolabi (Celtic) and Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion) have all enjoyed significant milestones in their club careers of late, while Southampton’s Michael Obafemi would also have been likely to feature, but had to withdraw due to injury.

stephen-kenny-and-keith-andrews Manager Stephen Kenny and assistant coach Keith Andrews during Ireland U21 training yesterday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Kenny suggested during the week that he would try to accommodate as many of these exciting young players as possible, and he is sticking with that principle.

“I did say that and I meant it and there will certainly be more than one centre forward on the pitch, for sure.

“They got a lot of stick, Holland, [against Ireland in 2001] where they had four strikers out on the pitch. I think it’s getting the balance right in the team that’s very important.

“I think that we have a lot of good players. I’ve just come off the training ground so I’m very positive about tomorrow night.

“The back four has been very consistent, that’s been a big help to us, only one goal in five games, without Brazil, because we obviously conceded two against Brazil. Caoimhin [Kelleher] and the back four have been very consistent.

We have good competition in midfield. Jason Knight has had a really good start at Derby; he has really pushed on from the summer again. He is very quick around the park, doing well and is really giving you food for thought with the selection because [Conor] Coventry and [Jayson] Molumby have been a really consistent pair also and they complement each other. So I think that gives us a great chance, the fact that we have consistency in those positions and we just have to get the rest right.”

So with that in mind, nine months into his tenure, does Kenny have a good idea of his strongest XI?

“This is the first time I’ve had Troy. It’s the first time I’ve had Gavin Kilkenny. We had Aaron in the summer in Toulon. He hadn’t been in the international set-up at all for the year. So it’s interesting.

“Do we know our best team? It’s evolving all the time. Some of the players are excelling at club level. Nathan Collins, for example has emerged and has done well at Stoke, Jason Knight at Derby. So it’s conundrums and dilemmas.

“Just because someone’s played four games and certain managers have picked him, does that move him ahead of someone else who hasn’t got a chance?

“We have to see things with our own eyes as well and not let others decide what our team is. We see with our own eyes how it’s going to evolve, how it’s going to mature, how it’s going to grow and what the best balance is. It’s not a measurement table — he’s played four games, so he’s moved ahead of the person who hasn’t played. I don’t view it like that. I view it in a different spirit.”

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Paul Fennessy

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