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'We're definitely in a much better place than we were four weeks ago'

Stephen Kenny leads Ireland into tomorrow night’s European Championship play-off in Slovakia.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny pictured during this evening's pre-match press conference in Bratislava.
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny pictured during this evening's pre-match press conference in Bratislava.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

MOTIVATION IS HIGH in the Republic of Ireland camp on the eve of a meeting with Slovakia which will go a long way towards determining whether the Boys in Green will be involved in the Euros.

That’s according to manager Stephen Kenny, whose players had their final pre-match work-out this evening at the Tehelné Pole Stadium.

Should Kenny’s side overcome the Slovaks, they’ll advance to a decisive play-off against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. The reward for the winners of that tie will be a place at next summer’s tournament, for which Dublin is one of a dozen host cities.

While Seamus Coleman, Darragh Lenihan and Harry Arter were all ruled out with injuries prior to departure, Kenny has reported a clean bill of health among the squad that travelled to Bratislava.

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Callum O’Dowda “has looked quite sharp”, according to the Ireland boss, despite not playing a game in over four weeks due to an adductor issue. Robbie Brady has also been passed fit, having sustained a rib injury a fortnight ago while on duty with Burnley.

By contrast, the outlook is rather bleak for the opposition when it comes to unavailable personnel. Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal has been forced to plan without four regular starters in goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, centre-back Milan Skriniar, left-back David Hancko and midfield linchpin Stanislav Lobotka.

“I think we’re going to have to really play at the top of our game to win tomorrow night,” said Kenny, who’s keen to ensure that Ireland don’t miss out on a chance to compete in a European Championship on home soil.

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“The motivation is very, very high. Players’ careers are short and the opportunities to get to major tournaments are not so frequent. If you can achieve that, particularly when it’s in Ireland, which is unprecedented, it would be incredibly special.

a-general-view-of-training The Ireland squad training in Bratislava this evening. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“For the players, they know that they’re going to have to put in a brilliant performance to win. Slovakia will be tough opponents but we’re doing everything we can to prepare and make sure that we give ourselves every opportunity.”

Kenny’s reign began in earnest with a Nations League double-header last month. Although there were aspects to be encouraged by, the lack of preparation time was evident as a 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Finland at the Aviva Stadium.

A month later, the 48-year-old Dubliner is adamant that his charges are shaping up well as they set about making the necessary improvements.

He said: “The things that we’ve worked on, the players have a clear idea. Some things that we needed to improve on, we were able to analyse that, assess it and address it.

“We’re definitely in a much better place than we were four weeks ago.”

About the author:

Paul Dollery

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