Championship highways and byways await for Ireland boss Stephen Kenny

Manager will be hoping players don’t get bogged down in transfer window ahead of qualifiers

Stephen Kenny will have a busy few weeks in the build-up to Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign. Photograph: Attila Trenka/Inpho

Stephen Kenny will have a busy few weeks in the build-up to Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign. Photograph: Attila Trenka/Inpho

 

Two salient points made this summer by Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny may have slipped under the radar.

“Over the next few years there will be a really strong cohort of players coming through and for the next European Championships a lot of them will have 10 or 15 caps under their belt,” he assured an understanding and patient media. “The Irish public will identify with these players and when they are successful, there will be a great connection there I feel.”

Kenny also defended the 16 debuts he handed out since unceremoniously replacing Mick McCarthy in April 2020 by insisting that the senior Ireland team has had “absolutely no development for about eight or nine years” and that “nobody is really looking at that”.

Well, clearly, he is.

Kenny has been forced to pick the players he believes are good enough to play international football rather than their form demanding inclusion. Playing regularly at club level has become a welcome bonus as it is increasingly apparent that being Irish and attached to an English team is an achievement in itself. Similar to reaching an Olympic final only to be blown out on the back straight.

The Premier League transfer deadline – 11pm on August 31st – has created uncertainty for an alarming number of Irish men who should be laser focused on denying Cristiano Ronaldo his world record 110th international goal at Estádio Algarve the next day.

September’s World Cup qualifier window also welcomes 50,000 supporters back to the Aviva stadium when Kenny’s team face Azerbaijan and Serbia. This is when the public will either identify with these players or switch off.

What’s certain over the next month is far too many important players will lack job security.

James McClean, for example, could be sold by Stoke City before Michael O’Neill’s side open their campaign at home to Reading this afternoon. The former Northern Ireland manager left McClean out of a recent training camp in Belfast while his squad number for this season has been changed from 11 to 30.

“Tell ye something for free,” McClean posted on Instagram last month, “there’s no quit in me, never have been, never will be.”

Maybe Celtic will come in for the 32-yea- old as they did for James McCarthy.

St Mirren’s Jamie McGrath, seen here tackling Scott Pittman of Livingston, is on the radar of a number of Championship clubs. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
St Mirren’s Jamie McGrath, seen here tackling Scott Pittman of Livingston, is on the radar of a number of Championship clubs. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The list of Irish players being sold, released and loaned by Premier League and Championship clubs is guaranteed to continue with, for example, Shane Long’s days at Southampton appearing to be numbered.

Goals can always alter the 34-year-old’s situation. If the veteran Tipperary striker suddenly adds to his 27 goals in 185 appearances at St Mary’s, manager Ralph Hasenhüttl might keep him on the wage bill.

Another Southampton centre forward, Dubliner Michael Obafemi, is seemingly available for a cool £6 million. Blackburn Rovers have apparently shied away from the asking price. The 21-year-old Obafemi has been hampered by hamstring injuries which, Kenny stated, ruled him out of consideration for recent squads.

Mipo Odubeko is another Dublin-born striker of Nigerian parentage who possesses all the raw materials to make it at West Ham. The 18-year-old is weighing up his options, having repeatedly rejected recent call ups to Jim Crawford’s Ireland under-21 squad.

Ideally, Adam Idah at Norwich City or Brighton’s Aaron Connolly – fresh from a summer of inadvertent Love Island headlines – or whoever starts rattling the net will find a way into Kenny’s starting XI.

Nobody seems safe anymore. Any one of these strikers could end up dropping to a lower league, perhaps even being forced to the third tier of English football like current Ireland starters Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City) and Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), who are young enough to embrace League One exposure at Portsmouth and MK Dons respectively.

Club standards might be completely ignored if Kenny decides to shape Ireland’s attack around the 19-year-old Parrott, as reward for the priceless brace he scored against Andorra in June.

Loan moves are currently the life blood of the national squad. The group Kenny selects in September will include plenty of asterisks.

Take Shane Duffy. A miserable loan season at Celtic has the 29-year-old back at Brighton & Hove Albion but manager Graham Potter refused this week to give the Derry giant his stamp of approval.

“We know Shane, we know his qualities, we know what he brings,” said Potter. “He came back and has worked really hard . . . and he has played well. There are no plans at the moment.”

Ireland midfielder Gavin Kilkenny in action against Milton Keynes Dons’ David Kasumu (left) and Charlie Brown during the Carabao Cup first-round match at the Vitality Stadium. Photograph: Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire
Ireland midfielder Gavin Kilkenny in action against Milton Keynes Dons’ David Kasumu (left) and Charlie Brown during the Carabao Cup first-round match at the Vitality Stadium. Photograph: Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire

Injuries to other centre halves might gift Duffy a few months of Premier League action and allow Kenny to stick to the same defensive triumvirate, beside Sheffield United’s John Egan and West Brom’s Dara O’Shea, that held firm against Hungary in June.

The 49-year-old and his assistant Keith Andrews are expected to visit plenty of dusty old grounds in the coming weeks, possibly starting last night at Dean Court as West Brom’s Callum Robinson and O’Shea travelled to Bournemouth, where Mark Travers and Gavin Kilkenny would have been worth seeing.

Sheffield United and Egan open their campaign at home to Birmingham City. Unfortunately, Enda Stevens is still injured but United is one of several Championship sides trying to pry Jamie McGrath, who Kenny shaped Dundalk’s attack around for two seasons, away from St Mirren.

Another option is Ashton Gate to watch Callum O’Dowda as Bristol City host Richard Keogh’s Blackpool. Or Preston North End’s five strong Irish contingent – including Alan Browne and Seán Maguire – against Hull City, although Seán McLoughlin is ruled out with illness.

League One will also become intimately familiar to the Irish management this winter – presuming they still have jobs in November – after encouraging performances from Parrott, Bazunu, Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United) and Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers) in a green jersey. He may even, for old time’s sake, take in a Tuesday night at Cambridge United or Sunderland, where ageing tricksters Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady are seeing out their careers many miles from the madding crowds.

Injuries continue to dog Robbie Brady as the 29-year-old rehabs an Achilles problem, suffered against Qatar last March, having been released by Burnley.

“I’ve a few offers,” Brady told the Irish Examiner, “but I’ll take my time in coming to the right decision. Things can change very quickly.”

McCarthy can attest, having just signed a four-year-deal with his boyhood club. Now all the Glaswegian needs is some luck. Same goes for Brady, McClean, Duffy, Long, and Parrott too. There will be no “great connection” without it.

Irish in the English Championship

PRESTON NORTH END
Alan Browne
Position:
Midfield
Age: 26
Caps: 14

Seán Maguire
Position:
Centre back
Age: 27
Caps: 12

Adam O’Reilly
Position:
Midfield
Age: 20
Caps: 0

Greg Cunningham
Position:
Defender
Age: 30
Caps: 4

Joe Rafferty
Position:
Defender
Age: 27
Caps : 0

SHEFFIELD UNITED
David McGoldrick
Position:
Striker
Age: 33
Caps: 14

Enda Stevens
Position:
Left back
Age: 31
Caps: 21

John Egan
Position:
Centre back
Age: 28
Caps: 14

BOURNEMOUTH
Mark Travers
Position:
Goalkeeper
Age: 22
Caps: 3

Gavin Kilkenny
Position:
Midfield
Age: 21
Caps: 0

Ben Greenwood
Position:
Left back
Age: 18
Caps: 0

STOKE CITY
James McClean
Position:
Winger
Age: 32
Caps: 80

Jack Bonham
Position:
Goalkeeper
Age: 27
Caps: 0

PETERBOROUGH UNITED
Jack Taylor
Position:
Midfield
Age: 23
Caps: 0

Sam Szmodics
Position:
Midfield
Age: 25
Caps: 0

QPR
Jimmy Dunne
Position:
Centre back
Age: 23
Caps: 0

Conor Masterson
Position:
Centre back
Age: 22
Caps: 0

MILLWALL
Alex Pearce
Position:
Centre back
Age: 32
Caps: 7

Danny McNamara
Position:
Right back
Age: 22
Caps: 0

WEST BROM
Dara O’Shea
Position:
Defender
Age: 22
Caps: 8

Callum Robinson
Position:
Forward
Age: 26
Caps: 18

CARDIFF CITY
Mark McGuinness
Position:
Centre back
Age: 20
Caps: 0

James Collins
Position:
Striker
Age: 30
Caps: 10

NOTTINGHAM FOREST
Harry Arter
Position:
Midfield
Age: 31
Caps: 18

FULHAM
Cyrus Christie
Position:
Right back
Age: 28
Caps: 28

BRISTOL CITY
Callum O’Dowda
Position:
Left winger
Age: 26
Caps: 23

BLACKPOOL
Richard Keogh
Position:
Centre back
Age: 34
Caps: 26

BIRMINGHAM CITY
Scott Hogan
Position:
Striker, winger
Age: 29
Caps: 8

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Darragh Lenihan
Position:
Defender
Age: 27
Caps: 2

HULL CITY
Seán McLoughlin
Position:
Centre back
Age: 24
Caps: 0

COVENTRY CITY
Jordan Shipley
Position:
Midfield
Age: 23
Caps: 0

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
Danny Grant
Position:
Forwar
Age: 21
Caps: 0

DERBY COUNTY
Jason Knight
Position:
Midfield
Age: 20
Caps: 7

LUTON TOWN
Glen Rea
Position:
Midfield/defender
Age: 26
Caps: 0

SWANSEA CITY
Ryan Manning
Position:
Left back
Age: 25
Caps: 4

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