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'He leads the line quite well' - Kenny explains surprise Keane call-up

The Irish manager also accepts his side need to start turning draws into wins.

Stephen Kenny.
Stephen Kenny.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY SAYS new call-up Will Keane can help Ireland turn draws into much-needed wins. 

Ireland remain winless in their qualifying group with three games to go, and with World Cup qualification now out of reach, the primary drama from closing games against Azerbaijan, Portugal and Luxembourg is whether Kenny deserves a contract renewal to the qualification campaign for Euro 2024. 

Next up for Ireland is a trip to Baku for a return meeting with Azerbaijan on Saturday week, and Keane is the freshest face named today in Kenny’s 25-man squad. 

Keane is a former England U21 international, and declared for Ireland at the start of 2019, when Mick McCarthy was in charge. A brother of Everton and England defender Michael, Will came through the ranks at Manchester United and now plys his trade with Wigan Athletic of League One, for whom he has scored four times this season. 

“Will has had a consistent run of games this year, he’s probably having one of his best seasons”, said Kenny. “I’ve been to see quite a bit of him: he links the play very well. He plays as a second striker at Wigan. He leads the line quite well, has an appreciation of players around him, has a good weight of pass and good vision. He can score headed goals and different types of goals, so he’s having a good season so far. 

“He’s a good option for us, so we’re looking forward to getting him in this week and working with him at close quarters. It’s his first introduction to the Irish international team and we’re looking forward to working with him.”

Kenny confirmed another League One striker, Lincoln’s Anthony Scully, was close to a call-up, along with Peterborough midfielder Jack Taylor. By contrast, Kenny said Connor Ronan – a stalwart of Kenny’s U21 team who has made a fast start to life on loan at St Mirren from Wolves – is not close to the squad at the moment. 

Enda Stevens is included after a lengthy absence through injury, in spite of the fact that Sheffield United claimed earlier today that he would be left out of the Irish squad as he works his way back to fitness. 

Kenny said there was no tension with the club over Stevens’ inclusion. 

“No. He has been out for a while alright, he’s been a very consistent performer with Ireland. He has had a pubus injury but he’s come back and played 90 minutes, 20 minutes and 70 minutes. He can play left centre-back, left-back or left wing-back, so he certainly gives us options.” 

Kenny’s position will be reviewed after the qualification campaign ends in November, though a poll published this morning by Ireland Thinks stated 80% of Irish fans wanted him to continue in the role. Today he deflected the importance of said poll, instead stressing the anecdotal. 

“The atmosphere at the Aviva against Serbia was exceptional. The supporters got behind the team regardless that we were one nil down, they really connected with the players.

“When I go out through airport or I am in Dublin, people are excited by the team, they want it to work. They want the team to really evolve and do well.

“We all want the results to improve and hopefully in this window we can do well.

“I felt that going around the country. I really felt that when we travel anywhere, even going on staff runs people are pulling cars over. There is just that general feeling around that people are excited about the possibilities of the team doing well.”

Kenny said he isn’t “fixated” on the looming decision from the FAI, though did say his side needs to turn draws into wins.

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“The last window was very intensive with three games in six days, very tough physically against Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia games. They were three very exciting games, but we obviously want to turn our draws into wins. We should have done that and we haven’t. We need to find a way of doing that.

“My contract is not up until July. It is not something I am very focused on. I am focused on the privileged job I have as international manager and just focused on doing the job and making sure we performed well.”

Republic of Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).

Defenders: Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren), Jason Knight (Derby County).

Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), James Collins (Cardiff City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United).

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Gavin Cooney

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