Ryan Byrne/INPHO Ireland boss Stephen Kenny.
Gearing Up

Kenny's 'great respect' for Liverpool and new coach search after Eustace exit

Ireland boss shuts down talk of club versus country row with Liverpool as lack of Premier League regulars remains a concern.

STEPHEN KENNY PLAYED down any prospect of a serious club versus country row developing between Ireland and Liverpool over the groin injury which has hampered Caoimhín Kelleher since the summer.

The back and forth with Jurgen Klopp has grown legs since the Anfield boss spoke publicly about his frustration that they were not informed of a strain which Kelleher apparently picked up on international duty against Ukraine in June.

The Cork native then suffered a recurrence of the issue when he returned for pre-season on Merseyside, and he has been unavailable for selection since.

Kenny admitted last month the issue took him by surprise as he had been unaware of any injury, and with Kelleher absent from the 24-man squad named yesterday for the upcoming Nations League double header with Scotland and Armenia, the issue came to the fore again.

The Ireland manager explained that Kelleher will return to full fitness – and his squad – soon, but once the live cameras left the press conference room he was pressed further on the matter to determine whether he and Klopp needed to chat one on one in order to solve things once and for all.

stephen-kenny Ryan Byrne / INPHO Stephen Kenny on media duty. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“I’m sure we’re fine. We’ve got great respect for Liverpool. I’m sure it’s not an issue,” he said.

“Listen, as you know, this is Dr Alan Byrne’s last game involved. He has a reputation from being involved in 200 internationals. They always have medical notes on every injury, extensive notes, and we have no medical notes on Caoimhín from that camp. There’s no medical notes.

If he did tweak something, we weren’t aware of it. He played terrifically well in the game [against Ukraine] but it’s just one of those things. We’ll all move on.

“He got injured in training when he went back. He’s nearly back. It’s unfortunate for Caoimhín.”

Once Kenny dealt with this issue, the usual zig-zag nature of the press briefing got under way with numerous topics requiring a once over given it’s three months since the last batch of Nations League games.

Ireland are third in the group on four points, just one clear of bottom side Armenia, but are aware that victory in Glasgow next Saturday will see them leapfrog Scotland into second.

Ukraine – who the Boys in Green drew 1-1 with in Lodz – are the pace setters on seven.

Kenny, having already spoken about the return to the squad of Robbie Brady, Andrew Omobamidele and Callum O’Dowda, was then asked whether he had yet to settle on a replacement for coach John Eustace, who left the set-up after that June window to take charge of Birmingham City.

“No. No news in that regard,” he said. “Obviously, Keith Andrews is my assistant. We’ve worked together for a number of years now from U21s to seniors. It’s only a two-game window [this month].

scotland-v-armenia-uefa-nations-league-group-b1-hampden-park PA Irelan face Scotland next week but Andy Robertson (left) will be absent. PA

“Normally, it’s three, the last was four. So it’s myself, Keith, Dean (Kiely) and Stephen Rice will step up in this window, supplementing the coaching staff. We’re going with that for this window.”

There was laughter in the room at the deadpan nature of a question put to Kenny about whether Nathan Collins can stop Erling Haaland when Wolves host Manchester City tomorrow.

“Nathan has been very good, he’s playing to a very high level. His attitude is good. He has good values, a high level of professionalism, and he has some good leadership qualities. You feel with Nathan he’s only going to get better in his career.

“Nathan has taken everything in his stride. It’s very impressive the way he’s done that. It’s a big challenge of course, taking on Manchester City and Haaland. It’s another step in his development. He’s played a high number of games for one so young, playing at Stoke and Burnley.

He’s shown the quality to do that. It’s a big challenge against Man City. I’m sure. He didn’t play against Haaland before. It’s a new experience. I’m sure he’ll relish the challenge.

“He seems to be a firm fixture in Wolves’ team which is terrific. For any of our Irish players to be playing regularly in the Premier League, ideally it’s what we want.”

That was the catalyst for an obvious follow up regarding captain Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty and Shane Duffy who have been on the fringes for Everton, Spurs and Fulham respectively.

“Not an ideal situation again,” Kenny rued. “Three players with a lot of experience who are very important to us. They’ve proved themselves consistently over the years.

“It’s difficult not to play and then step up when you’ve not played for a long time. It’s not ideal, we’ll have to have a look at and reflect on when we see everyone in training.”

derby-county-v-plymouth-argyle-sky-bet-league-one-pride-park-stadium PA Jason Knight in action for Derby. PA

Jason Knight was floated as a possible option at right wing back given he has operated there for Derby County, but Kenny didn’t seem keen on the idea.

“He can play there. Jason is a versatile player. But it would be preferential for us if he were playing higher up the pitch. He has had an impact at international level as an attacking midfield player.

“He has so much energy, inventive spirit. His ability to press high, his ability to take the ball on the half-turn, his dribbling ability.

And you felt he was getting better for us. He had a good window himself the last time, performing very well as an attacking midfielder. And that’s what we see him as.

“So we don’t want to have him inhibited by playing right-back for a period, and that stifling his creative instincts or ability to play as an attacking midfielder.

“And I don’t think he sees his future at right-back. And we don’t really either, but I understand needs must at every club and every manager must make the best decision for himself. And I respect that.”

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