Matt Doherty looking forward to a crowd and some grass under his feet in Hungary

‘I like to play with fans in the stadium, for me it makes a difference to my game’

Matt Doherty will play at right back against Hungary with Séamus Coleman ruled out of the friendly with a hamstring injury. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

Matt Doherty will play at right back against Hungary with Séamus Coleman ruled out of the friendly with a hamstring injury. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

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Finally, after 14 months of unprecedented difficulties, Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland travel to Budapest without excuses.

Injuries do continue to stunt the growth of Kenny’s team, with captain Séamus Coleman forced to return home for further treatment on his hamstring, but previous complaints about their lack of time together, Covid withdrawals and the inability to score goals have all been lifted from the 49-year-old’s shoulders ahead of Tuesday’s end of season friendly against Hungary in what is expected to be a noisy Szusza Ferenc stadium.

On Friday, Hungary beat Cyprus 1-0 in front of approximately 7,500 supporters, half the stadium’s capacity, in their penultimate warm-up before entering the European Championship’s group of death, where world champions France, European champions Portugal and three-time tournament winners Germany await.

“If [fans at the game] is true I will be absolutely delighted,” said Tottenham Hotspur’s Matt Doherty, who is expected to continue at right back in Coleman’s absence. “I played in the last game of the season against Leicester, there was 10,000 maybe there and you could hear the atmosphere and it feels a lot better.”

The Hungarian Football Federation are obliged to keep three seats empty between each occupied seat with supporters not sitting directly behind or in front of each other but these protocols were not strictly enforced at recent games in the country. If anything, the FAI can compile a list of dos and don’ts ahead of fans returning to Irish venues in July.

“I like to play with fans in the stadium, for me it makes a difference to my game,” Doherty continued, “so if that is the case, with it being on grass as well, I am even more excited than I already was.”

Doherty’s “grass” remark is in reference to the artificial surface in Andorra, where Ireland laboured to a 4-1 victory last Thursday, their first under Kenny.

It is another excuse that would have fallen on deaf ears if teenager Troy Parrott’s two goals – he deserved a hat trick – had not inspired a dramatic revival after Ireland conceded a goal from set piece in the 52nd minute.

“One-nil down I felt like it was almost the end of the world really,” Doherty admitted, offering a refreshing insight into the players’ mentality. “It wasn’t looking pretty, was it? But look, we managed to switch on. Maybe it was the little wake up call that we might have needed to get into gear.”

On the lack of confidence in the camp, it remains unclear whether that is a symptom or cause of the team’s current malaise.

“It’s like anything,” Doherty endeavoured to explain, “if you have a run of games where you don’t win, and losses like [we had], then you start to doubt yourself. Your confidence takes a hit. If we were confident we wouldn’t have lost that many games.

“We were probably a little bit frenetic and we lost our way a little bit [in Andorra] because of the honesty of the group, just wanting to do well, and wanting to win a game for Ireland.

“Maybe just a lack of belief, maybe we were kind of playing and didn’t actually believe we could get over the line.

“Now it’s kind of time to turn the page,” the 29-year-old added. “Look, we’ve won the first one now so it’s time to go to Hungary, see can we beat Hungary, get as many wins and draws and stay unbeaten as long as possible.”

Norwich City centre back Andrew Omobamidele could come in to make his debut against Hundary if Stephen Kenny decides to experiment. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Norwich City centre back Andrew Omobamidele could come in to make his debut against Hundary if Stephen Kenny decides to experiment. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

Ireland’s next competitive fixture is away to Portugal on September 1st before Azerbaijan and Serbia come to Dublin, all in a seven-day period.

Understandably, Kenny is seeking permission to attend upcoming Portugal games at the Euros in Budapest and Munich.

“It would be great to see them, they’re a terrific team” he said. “We’ve nine points to play for in September. They’re tough games, Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia, so it’s very important for us. We want to have a good window in September.”

That frames Tuesday’s fixture as a tune up for the World Cup qualifiers, which may tempt Kenny to lean towards a settled starting XI. Or the manager will continue his policy of blooding young talent. Uncapped quartet Caoimhín Kelleher, Andrew Omobamidele, Danny Mandroiu and Chiedozie Ogbene are pushing hard for minutes.

Omobamidele, following the 18-year-old’s impressive end of season with the Premier League bound Norwich City, could be slotted into defence alongside Shane Duffy but Kenny’s toughest decision appears to be the make up of his midfield after conservative displays by Josh Cullen and Conor Hourihane in Andorra.

Perhaps the feel of grass underfoot in Budapest will liberate the Irish players against a Hungary side that are priming themselves for three mission impossible fixtures.

Ireland (revised squad)

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

Defenders: Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Lee O’Connor (Tranmere Rovers, on loan from Celtic), James McClean (Stoke City), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Conor Hourihane (Swansea City, on loan from Aston Villa), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest), Jason Knight (Derby County), Jayson Molumby (Preston North End, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren), Daniel Mandroiu (Shamrock Rovers).

Forwards: James Collins (Cardiff City), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers).

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