Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
back in camp

Kenny hopes new faces can bring some attacking spark as Ireland get to work in Girona

Ireland are training in Spain ahead of games against Andorra and Hungary.

IT’S JUST AS well the Republic of Ireland squad have a decent couple of days together ahead of next Thursday’s friendly against Andorra, because there are a lot of new faces knocking around the camp this week.

On Monday, Ireland manager Stephen Kenny handed four players their first call up to the international squad ahead of the games against Andorra and Hungary – Shamrock Rovers’ Danny Mandroiu, Rotherham United winger Chiedozie Ogbene, St. Mirren midfielder Jamie McGrath and Norwich City defender Andrew Omobamidele.

Four became five as the week rolled on and the usual flurry of injury disruptions hit – in total Kenny is without eight players. So in came Sammie Szmodics, an attacking midfielder who has been on Kenny’s radar for some time.

The 25-year-old scored 15 goals as Peterborough United secured promotion to the Championship in the season just ended, and Kenny hopes Szmodics – who was born in England but qualifies for Ireland through his grandmother – can add some extra creative spark to a squad brimming with promising young attacking talent.

“I was aware a couple of years ago that Sam had declared an interest in playing for Ireland, when he had maybe been overlooked for U21 level at that time,” Kenny said.

“I went to watch Ipswich and Peterborough only 18 months ago, to watch Alan Judge for Ipswich and Jack Taylor playing for Peterborough, and in that game Sam was playing as a number 10 and he scored twice in Portman Road. He did very well on the day.

sammie-szmodics-file-photo Peterborough's Sammie Szmodics. PA PA

“We monitored his progress in that period. Obviously it is a big jump from League One to international football. I’ve been at some recent games in Peterborough to see him and he is adaptable. He is a very hard working player.

“He’s quick and has managed to be a selfless player for Peterborough, playing in a 4-2-3-1 as the number 10 but because of the way they play – they are very attacking, it is nearly like 4-2-4 – and he is like a second striker with them, scoring a creating a few goals.

“He moves into the Championship this year, so he will be keen to have a good camp (with Ireland).”

There is a particularly youthful look to Kenny’s squad, who are currently settling into the early days of an extended training camp in Girona. Speaking from the team hotel today, the Ireland manager repeated his message earlier this week about wanting his players enjoy the camp and using their opportunity to impress.

But the large shadow cast by an 11-game winless run will hang over the week. They spent this morning looking back over their most recent games against Serbia and Luxembourg in March. It will have been a painful experience for many in the room. 

“One of the things is we have to be adaptable and we have to be fluid,” Kenny explained.

“For example, we played 4-3-3 early on and 4-2-3-1 against Slovakia (last year) and all of a sudden you get to the last window (in March) and all of our wingers are injured, and we’ve got the capacity to play 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-3, and we just have to have the flexibility and adaptability to do that. I think that’s very important for us.

So to be able to practice the different systems and get the players to understand exactly what we expect. And understand that in some games, the concept of control, we have established that at times but we need more penetration in our play at times, and our midfield players constantly monitoring their ability to pass forward.

“We’re highlighting that a lot generally – incisive passes. It’s an area that we need to improve.

“Some of the passages of play against Serbia were simply outstanding, and we’ve looked back on them and shown them to the players today, and we were unfortunate not to win that. 

“And then we’ve seen a lot of our play against Luxembourg break down and not be as fluid at all. So there is room for improvement there. We are looking to improve gradually. A lot of players are gaining valuable experience and they will be important players for Ireland in the future. 

“So we are looking to put in strong performances over the two games. We are missing a few players but that gives opportunities for others. You want players to grasp that opportunity.”

Kenny will be flexible when it comes to team selection, by necessity as much as choice, but the bottom line remains the same. Encourage his players to play a fluid style of football, while hoping they can finally find some attacking edge. 

“I’ve gone through some of the clips of some absolutely outstanding plays in the last run of games but we have to turn that (into wins). It has not been maybe consistent in all the games. Parts of games there have been some exceptional moves, but we need consistently over 90 minutes, and we need to take our chances.

“That is critical for us, we must be more prolific, more ruthless in front of goal, that’s for sure.”

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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