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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

‘Michael got the crowd on the edge of their seats, he was running 70 yards with the ball’

Stephen Kenny praised the contribution of Michael Obafemi following Ireland’s stalemate with Italy.

Ireland's Michael Obafemi with Claud Adjapong of Italy.
Ireland's Michael Obafemi with Claud Adjapong of Italy.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

IRELAND’S DEFENCE MAY have earned another clean sheet and took their record to just two goals conceded in eight games, but Stephen Kenny was still eager to praise the contribution of his attackers last night.

The hosts went close on a couple of occasions, but ultimately could find no way past Italy on Thursday amid a 0-0 draw in front of a record crowd for an U21 match at Tallaght Stadium.

Adam Idah and Troy Parrott started up front, while Michael Obafemi caught the eye after coming on in the second period.

Obafemi has had a run of hamstring injuries of late, meaning Ireland have to manage his game time. Yet the Southampton youngster could be in line to start against Iceland on Tuesday, with Troy Parrott suspended, Aaron Connolly promoted to the senior team and Jonathan Afolabi ruled out through injury, with Aaron Drinan last night drafted into the squad as attacking cover.

“I felt Italy had us under pressure in the first 20 minutes and created a good chance,” Kenny said. “Andrea Pinamonti’s header, that was very close. They had the elements [with them] in the first half, we had them in the second half. It was quite a blustery wind that made passing difficult tonight. But I felt we passed our way back into the game. Caoimhín Kelleher particularly showed great composure in goal and very accurate passing that helped us get a stranglehold in the game.

“The midfield players, Conor Coventry and Jayson Molumby, gave us a platform. We were brave enough and showed good technical ability in midfield. I felt we got ourselves back into the game and had two good chances then, with Troy Parrott’s shot and also Connor Ronan’s effort, which looked like it was in. Adam Idah was following up on both those attempts — those are the margins.

“We had chances in the second half — Troy Parrott was unlucky not to score when Adam Idah set him up. Jayson Molumby’s free kick was a brilliant strike and a great save by their goalkeeper.

“We had a lot of efforts — I would say more than they had overall. But they’re an excellent team. Tactically, it’s very interesting and you have to adapt. Luca Pellegrini, who’s been in their senior international team, plays so high as a left-back. He stretches the pitch and it poses you a problem with their three forwards. Zach Elbouzedi, even though he’s a winger, had to do a great defensive job as well.

I thought Adam Idah was a handful for their defence all night. Alessandro Bastoni played for Inter versus Juve last weekend and Adam caused their centre-halves a lot of trouble. He was disappointed with his performance against Armenia in the last game, but it was the total opposite today. He was so aggressive in his running, so direct — great pace and a lot of conviction in his play. I was quite pleased with that and felt it always made sure we had a threat.

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“We had the pace of Michael Obafemi then, coming on and also being a threat. I thought Michael worked very hard when he came on. We asked him to play in a position that he’s unaccustomed to. It’s not somewhere where he’s really played for his club or country really. So his angles of running are different, but he got the crowd on the edge of their seats, he was running 70 yards with the ball. Not many players can do that — it’s exciting.”

In addition, Kenny singled out 18-year-old substitute Jason Knight for praise. He also revealed that with Darragh Leahy injured, Liam Scales — who plays predominantly at centre-back for UCD — had been asked to start at left full in anticipation of the threat down the right of Moise Kean, who ultimately did not start and only came on at half-time.

“It’s a different position for [Liam]. We expected Moise Kean to play on the right, because he has been playing on the right in the previous two internationals. Liam would have been more suited to playing against him.

We had a young left-back in the squad, Kameron Ledwidge, that would have been suited to playing, but they changed their team. It took Liam a bit of time to find his feet playing in that position to be fair, but once the opening 20 minutes were out of the way, you got more confident. He had a very good second half. Defensively, he did a very good job and he wasn’t exposed. That tackle he made [early on], it was such an honest tackle to win the ball, it really got the crowd on the edge of their seats because it was ferocious and he did really well.”

On the overall performance, Kenny added: “I think we’re capable of being better, but it was an excellent performance. I think they’re a very good team. You can talk about levels of performance, but it’s doing it against top international players. Don’t forget two of their players are flying out with the senior team now and a different two have just come back from the senior team. You’ve got Patrick Cutrone and Kean, who’ve been involved with the senior team, and you’ve got Pellegrini and Sandro Tonali. So they’re seasoned pros. A lot of our players are still under 19 – Troy Parrott, Adam Idah, Jason Knight, Conor Coventry, Lee O’Connor. So they’ve done brilliantly.

“It’s a very good start. Of course we would have been happy with [10 points] — Sweden away winning, the two home games, but we’re not ecstatic about drawing tonight. We feel we could have won the game in the end. The players are a little bit disappointed they didn’t win, but that shows you how far they’ve come in such a short time.”

Andy Dunne and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to preview Ireland-Samoa, and discuss the utter farce of the World Cup falling foul of Typhoon Hagibis.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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