Expectations are enormous for incoming Ireland coach John Eustace

The Queens Park Rangers coach will double job on the club and country scenes

The immediate beneficiary of John Eustace's appointment as Republic of Ireland coach has to be Jimmy Dunne. Jeff Hendrick is a close second but all of a sudden the Queens Park Rangers centre back has a club voice fighting his corner when it comes to international recognition.

Eustace is already filling the Anthony Barry role at Irish training in Abbotstown, ahead of the centenary match against an under-strength Belgium at the Aviva stadium on Saturday, perfecting the 3-4-2-1 system both coaches drill into players on a daily basis at Chelsea and QPR.

Eustace, like Barry before Belgium recruited him from under the FAI’s nose, will double job on the club and country scenes.

"I played against John which makes me feel a bit old," said Conor Hourihane, who at 31 enters his prime years at Sheffield United, while on loan from Aston Villa. "Looking forward to working with him."

Expectations are enormous with Eustace facing a challenge to match his predecessor’s immediate impact. And just for added spice, the first coach he faces is Belgium’s Anthony Barry.

“There is no secret that Anthony was fantastic,” said Hourihane. “When he first came in he was a breath of fresh air with his ideas and how he coached was great. You are not a bad coach if you are at Chelsea, where he has won a few trophies and been heavily involved.

“Anthony put his own stamp on the group and it was brilliant but we have to move on from that now. Hopefully John coming in can give a few different ideas, along with Keith (Andrews), who is great.

“Thanks to Anthony,” Hourihane added, “he was brilliant, but this is a new chapter.”

Distinct style

The template is unquestionably set for how Ireland intends to play with Kenny recently rejecting the notion that teams might start to figure out their possession based approach. The appointment of Eustace hardens a collective determination inside the camp to deliver a distinct style regardless of what the opposition do.

“The last couple of camps we feel like we are turning a corner, playing some good stuff, getting some good results. Onwards and upwards, we are really looking forward to the games ahead.”

Alan Browne, another midfielder seeking minutes in a congested area, agreed: "Credit to (Stephen Kenny), he stuck to his guns, he stuck to what he wants us to do. It is a long process. We came under a lot of criticism at first but it is time to look up now."

Dunne, the Drogheda born 24 year-old, missed the cut for this Ireland squad as Blackburn Rovers skipper Darragh Lenihan was called up. Dara O'Shea's return from a fractured ankle softens the loss of Andrew Omobamidele - as the teenager's debut campaign in the Premier League appears to have come to a premature conclusion due to back issues.

Dunne is an ever present for QPR as the left of three centre backs, a berth John Egan has nailed down for Ireland, as both their clubs push for promotion. QPR are eighth in the Championship, two points behind Egan's Sheffield United, with at least one Irish player on course to feature in the top flight next season.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been there for a couple of years and it’s fantastic,” said Hourihane, “it’s the best league in the world, the most-watched league in the world so I’d love to get back there if possible. I’d love to be able to get a couple of more appearances at the top level.

“We can always dream, whether that will happen, time will tell. It’s up to myself between now and the end of the season to put in as many good performances as I can and see what happens come the summer.”

Hendrick, like Dunne, finds himself in the ideal position of working with his new international coach every day since reigniting his career away from Newcastle United.

So, who is this 42 year-old that Kenny has added to the Ireland backroom? A journeyman career spanning 19 seasons and almost 400 appearances, mostly for Coventry City - where Eustace played alongside Robbie Keane - Watford and Derby County, he briefly filled the manager's role at QPR when Steve McClaren was sacked at a perilous moment in 2019.

“Nothing fazed me and I enjoyed the challenge,” Eustace said previously. “I think we had won one in the previous 15 games and we ended up getting seven points out of the last seven to be able to stay up. So, I was quite pleased with my achievement there.”

Forced to retire in 2016, he became manager of Kidderminster Harriers, with the style of play branded “non-league Barcelona” by a rival manager who added: “It doesn’t matter how you set up, we had to change formation three times to try to tackle it.”

Now the Englishman has a real opportunity, much like his predecessors Damien Duff and Barry, in a role both were quick to leave before ending up in vastly different scenarios.

"John has been assistant manager with Queens Park Rangers for four years and has established himself as an accomplished and well-respected coach," said Kenny. "He is an excellent addition to the coaching team and we're looking forward to linking up for the two matches against Belgium and Lithuania, and for the season ahead."

An unclear season, as both Nations League fixtures against Ukraine are under threat due to the Russian invasion, as well as the clash against Scotland which almost certainly need to be moved out of the June window.

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