Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Ireland U21 boss Stephen Kenny (file pic).
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'To say we should only pick players from England, I couldn’t agree with that'
Stephen Kenny has rejected suggestions that he should have excluded League of Ireland players from the Toulon Tournament.

IRISH U21 BOSS Stephen Kenny has defended the Toulon Tournament, after it caused six League of Ireland games to be postponed as a result of player call-ups.

Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley last Friday expressed frustration after seeing his side’s game with Waterford postponed, suggesting that in this particular instance, only English-based players should be called up to avoid fixture congestion domestically.

“When it’s a proper international week, why not play like we did last time, because the players deserve to be in the squads,” he added.

“This isn’t a proper international week that the players have to go. I don’t think it’s good enough.”

Kenny, however, took a different view, suggesting the League of Ireland should be proud to be able to showcase some its players on the international stage irrespective of the context.

“From a players’ perspective, it’s an amazing experience for them, because they are playing in a tournament, they are playing a Chinese team that in their eyes are going to Tokyo to play the Olympics. Mexico would be good standard. We’ve a bit to learn against Bahrain, three different cultures. We will have a fourth game and the possibility exists that we can get through to the semi-finals and if we do, we can play five games.

“The games are free to air all over the UK and Ireland and Europe and televised around the world. In the other countries, they will have similar interest, in the Far East and South America. There are not big attendances in terms of support, but every club in Europe of note will have representatives at it. So it’s a massive opportunity for players to play an U21 international against good teams [for games] that are live on television. It’s a great opportunity, so if you’re asking me to see a negative in that, I can’t.”

Pressed on the issue, Kenny added: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As someone who managed in the league for a long number of years and initially, when I started, you couldn’t get a game on TV, you didn’t have any interest, self-esteem was non-existent. And then to the way we achieved, the way that was achieved to progressing Europe, getting great results in Europe and going on and I think great domestic cup finals and FAI Cup finals and pivotal league games.

For years in recent history, the league didn’t have an U21 player for a full calendar year. I think we’d eight in the last squad and ended up with nine, we’re giving players the opportunity to really excel at the highest level, that kind of exposure reflects well on the league. Players come in like Darragh Leahy, Neil Farrugia, Zak Elbouzedi and excel in the last game, and people are saying these are great players and they’re better than players at major clubs because managers pick players ahead of players from the top Premier [League] clubs and top European clubs. That reflects well on the league.

“To say, when we go to a prestigious tournament with a worldwide TV audience, that we should not pick players from our league, we should only pick players from England, I couldn’t agree with that. I think that’s a point of view and it’s not my point of view.

“We’d like to get to the stage where every match would be cancelled in every international window, that’s what you want in future. If you have ambition that’s where you want the situation [to develop], we’re not at that level now — there’s not enough demand for it. The league should aspire to have that. So it must be viewed in a different light.”

Kenny also rejected any suggestion of doubled standards at play, given that while all League of Ireland players have been released from their clubs, goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher will remain with Liverpool until after Saturday’s Champions League final.

“He’s [going to] the Champions League final, it’s quite a unique situation. We’re in contact with him, so we’ll sort that out.

“He’s not playing on Saturday, so that’s not an issue.”

Kenny also confirmed that UCD starlet Neil Farrugia had been ruled out of the tournament after picking up a hamstring injury, with Reading winger Josh Barrett called up in his place.

It’s very unfortunate. [Neil] has really been excellent, first of all in the home-based camp and he was really excellent against Luxembourg and scored his first-ever goal [for Ireland U21s]. He trained very well that week, he was really good. He’s moved to a new position with his club — wing-back, they’ve gone three at the back. I did see him against Cork and he was really exceptional. The last couple of minutes of the Waterford game, he had a hamstring strain, he had to pull up. The scan subsequently revealed that it’s a grade two injury, so he’ll be out for quite a few weeks.

“It’s just unlucky. He was really looking forward to it, he gives us that extra dimension and he was also our interpreter with his father being French and a lot of his family being French. They had booked holidays to Toulon, cousins and all, and they were all looking forward to it. He was here this morning to see the physio and he left because he’s devastated. It was a big opportunity for him, but that’s the way it goes.”

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

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