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Stephen Kenny makes winning start to stint with Irish U21s

The Dubliner’s first game as an international manager was successful, his home-based selection winning 1-0.

Stephen Kenny on the sideline tonight.
Stephen Kenny on the sideline tonight.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Republic of Ireland U21s (Home Based) 1
Republic of Ireland Amateurs 0

Gavin Cooney reports from Home Farm

STEPHEN KENNY’S FIRST attempt at tuning an international team to his will ended with a dominant 1-0 win for his home-based squad against the Republic of Ireland Amateurs. 

The game was curiously soundtracked: a tinny rendition of the Champions League anthem rang out from the PA system as the teams emerged from the tunnel. 

While Kenny’s ideal symphony is some way off yet, here we saw the first steps toward it without any cymbal-crashing stumbles. 

Kenny went with a 4-1-4-1 formation, with ‘play football’ a frequent invocation from the touchline. At one point in the first-half, when right-back Andy Lyons hoisted a ball diagonally across the pitch to nobody in particular, Kenny turned away in frustration. 

Centre-backs Conor McCarthy and Liam Scales dropped to the end line to take goal-kicks short, with Aaron Bolger frequently dropping into midfield to pick up the ball from there. 

Having initially struggled with the amateurs’ physicality, Kenny’s U21s ultimately passed their way into the game, albeit largely to little effect and were frequently forced into retreating backward. Not that Kenny was unduly worried, at one point stressing to his players that it was “all they could do”. 

The breakthrough came when the approach was varied slightly, a long ball played over Amateurs’ left back Jordan Buckley was latched onto by Neil Farrugia who dribbled to the end line and cut the ball back into the penalty area, where Brandon Kavanagh stabbed the ball home. 

All of Ireland’s best play in the first-half came through the raffish Farrugia, and a delightful one-two with Aaron Driannan forced a good save from Brendan O’Connell, with Driannan’s follow-up effort deflected wide. 

Substitute left-back Robbie McCourt hit the post with Ireland’s best chance of the second-half, having been found in the penalty area by a gorgeous reverse pass by Zach Elbouzedi.

The rebound was spurned when Kavanagh dithered on the rebound instead of shooting and substitute Michael O’Connor drove a shot into the side-netting.

O’Connor, who had declared for Northern Ireland before a call-up from his old Dundalk manager gave him pause for thought, was impressive up front with his physicality and link-up play drawing those around to him, Elbouzedi in particular, into the game. His proclivity for being caught offside, however, frustrated.

Brandon Kavanagh and Liam Brady Under 21's Brandon Kavanagh and Liam Brady of Ireland Amateurs. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

While Farrugia faded in the second-half, centre-back Liam Scales was outstanding throughout while Dan Mandriou showed tantalising flashes of class as a late substitute. 

This was a homecoming of sorts for Kenny, having briefly played with Home Farm before moving to Pat’s to start the management career that will soon bring him to the top job.

The principles to which he says he will remain loyal were on show to the couple of hundred huddled together in Whitehall, and expect them to be evident when the crowds swell to the tens of thousands.

A secluded, low-key…and winning start.

Republic of Ireland U21 (Home Based): Conor Kearins; Andy Lyons, Conor McCarthy, Liam Scales (Sam Todd 90′) Trevor Clarke (Robbie McCourt 55′); Jamie Lennon (c); Zach Elbouzedi (William Fitzgerald 87′), Brandon Kavanagh (Dan Mandriou 78′) Aaron Bolger (Jack Keaney 78′), Neil Farrugia (Karl O’Sullivan 90′) (, Aaron Driannan (Michael O’Connor, 52′) 

Republic of Ireland Amateurs: Brendan O’Connell (Gary Neville 65′); Paul Murphy, (Shane Guerins 60′), Stephen Kelly (Conor Tourish 73′), Christopher McCarthy; Jordan Buckley (Niall Brennan 69′), Thomas Hyland, Liam Brady,  Stephen McGann (Alan McGreal HT);  Eoin Hayes (Colm Carney 65′), Shane Stritch (Enda Curran 69′) 

Referee: Rob Harvey 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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