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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 13 December, 2019

'Traditionally we don't think we're good enough as a nation. To me, that's unacceptable. We must demand more'

Stephen Kenny believes the 2019 Toulon Tournament represents a big opportunity for his players.

A FRESH WAVE of optimism has washed over the Ireland U21s recently, with last month’s impressive 3-0 victory against Luxembourg setting the groundwork for what could be a promising year ahead.

Stephen Kenny’s tenure in charge will ultimately be a short one. The former Dundalk boss will take over from Mick McCarthy with the men’s senior team in just 15 months and will not see out the current qualification campaign for the 2021 Euros.

Stephen Kenny celebrates after the game Kenny celebrates after beating Luxembourg 3-0 at Tallaght Stadium. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

He has stated since taking the role that he intends to maximize his short stint with the underage team and is looking ahead to June’s Toulon Tournament with excitement and intent.

A double from Norwich prospect Adam Idah and another well-taken strike from 19-year-old UCD winger youngster Neil Farrugia saw Kenny’s side comprehensively beat Luxembourg at Tallaght Stadium two weeks ago.

It was the perfect start in what was the ex-Dundalk boss’ first competitive game in the hot seat since taking over from Noel King, and Kenny is hoping to keep the good vibes going in Toulon later this summer.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us as a nation to go to this tournament and compete against these nations,” he told FAI TV this week.

“The Toulon Tournament is hugely important with the gap between the U19s and U21s internationals being huge. It’s a huge step up for our players, good matches, and we want to give ourselves a chance.”

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

Ireland have been grouped with Mexico, China and Bahrain, with the annual Toulon Tournament recognised historically as one of the most prestigious U21 competitions in youth football.

“Bahrain, China and Mexico are all in tournaments next year for Olympic qualification so they will be taking the tournament extremely seriously,” Kenny said.

China have brought a great coach in, in Guus Hiddink and have played 10 competitive matches since September so it shows the resources they’re putting in.

“Mexico, traditionally, have had dynamic and impressive under-age teams, and Bahrain would be an unknown quantity to us but they’ve got a clear objective to qualify for Qatar 2022, as do we.”

Speaking more broadly, Kenny lamented the promise within Irish football and said it was his hope for Ireland’s U21s to finally achieve its potential, to not fear the task of qualifying for major competitions, something the Irish side has never done before at this age grade.

Stephen Kenny The Dubliner will take over from Mick McCarthy after the conclusion of Euro 2020 in 15 months. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“We can’t insist on perimeters on the way we can perform, we can’t limit ourselves,” Kenny added.

“Traditionally, we limit ourselves on how we think we can play, we don’t think we’re good enough as a nation, we don’t think our players are good enough and to me, that’s unacceptable.

We must demand more of ourselves. I want defenders who are comfortable in possession and can play out.

“I want to use the maximum width of the pitch and I want our attacking players to express themselves.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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