No excuses for Ireland as they try to develop a winning habit in Andorra

Anything but a victory for Stephen Kenny’s side and the wolves will be at the door

Ireland train at Estadi Nacional ahead of their clash with Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

Ireland train at Estadi Nacional ahead of their clash with Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

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Thursday June 3rd, Andorra v Republic of Ireland, Estadi Nacional, Andorra La Vell, 5pm - Live RTÉ Two and Sky Sports.

This feels like a preview from an alternative universe, but Andorra - population 77,000 (same as Tallaght) - could present a nervy examination of Stephen Kenny’s tiki taka revolution.

Some taka to go with the tiki is badly needed.

A paltry six goals in 11 internationals, when the team conceded 16 across five draws and six defeats, means that the wolves can never be far from the door.

The problem, in Kenny’s mind, has been a stodgy conservatism, perhaps ingrained in the Irish players’ psyche, when attacking moments demand precision football.

“Some of our midfield players, overall, need to look forward more,” said Kenny. “Definitely be quicker and earlier. Sometimes they are conservative in their passing.

“I’ve seen Josh Cullen, for example, change in that respect. Initially, having watched him at Charlton, he was always a very honest, tenacious player who gave you everything and was a good footballer but his range of passes was limited.

“But I have noticed now, particularly since his move to Anderlecht, he is much more progressive with his passing.”

So, Cullen must be starting.

“Some of our young players coming through need to look forward earlier and pass with real penetration. That has been one of the themes this week, one of the central points that we wanted to illustrate and highlight.”

The Republic of Ireland manager seemed to enjoy the now standard question at press conferences about press conferences, in the wake of Naomi Osaka lighting a fire under Roland Garros.

Stephen Kenny is still looking for his first win as Republic of Ireland manager. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Stephen Kenny is still looking for his first win as Republic of Ireland manager. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

Kenny began with the stock answer about media interaction being part of the gig and that professional sports people should feel “privileged” to be entertained by the fourth estate before nimbly pivoting into the realm of empathy for anyone who feels anxiety at the mere prospect of microphones being switched to record.

Then, without warning, the Dubliner directed this soccer pow wow towards the sweet science.

“I am always in awe of boxers getting out of the ring and speaking straight away after 12 or 15 rounds. I always find that incredible.”

Last March in Dublin, Kenny looked like he had gone a few rounds with Gerson Rodrigues, after the Luxembourg striker’s winner at the Aviva Stadium flung Ireland’s chances of qualifying for Qatar 2022 into grave doubt. The 49-year-old might appear a decade older if he has to stare at Tony O’Donoghue’s furrowed brow immediately following anything but a comprehensive victory in the shadow of the Pyrenees.

It is unthinkable that this team, after a week training together in northern Catalonia, will fail to buckle the legs of opponents from a tiny principality.

There will be no excuse for failure to land a knockout blow against a side ranked 158th by Fifa, to Ireland’s 47th, so the inevitable question about suffocating pressure is legitimate. Every public message Kenny has attempted to convey gets drowned out by the unavoidable fact that since he replaced Mick McCarthy the national team is winless.

Seamus Coleman trains ahead of Ireland’s friendly with Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Seamus Coleman trains ahead of Ireland’s friendly with Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

“Listen, I feel that it’s a match I want to win,” he stated. “I feel a bit disappointed that we haven’t won in the last few games, for sure, and we want to go back to winning ways and make a habit of winning, and I think that’s important.”

Kenny likes to revert back to positive moments from the previous international window, even though the mention of “really brilliant football” against Serbia reminds everybody how that 3-2 defeat exposed Ireland’s chin to Rodrigues’s right hook.

“It’s our own fault that these questions keep coming up,” said Conor Hourihane. “Because we haven’t got the win we really really want. Hopefully that will be tomorrow night.

“If not tomorrow hopefully then Hungry.”

Now is perhaps not the best time to nit-pick at a professional athlete making a harmless enough comment, but if Ireland are stumbling on to Budapest with a score draw from this tiny dot on the European map, or worse, no amount of press conferencing between now and Tuesday will convince the Irish public that this group and this manager are meant to be together.

“The sooner the better,” Hourihane added, “because everyone seems to be mentioning it, it becomes more in your face, people get talking about it, people start thinking about it more, so hopefully like I keep saying, a win comes that takes a little bit of the pressure off.

“But we’ve only got ourselves to blame.”

At least the match is on artificial turf and not clay. 6-0 sounds about right.

Ireland (possible): Kelleher (Liverpool); Doherty (Spurs), Egan (Sheffield United), O’Shea (West Brom), Manning (Swansea); Cullen (Anderlecht), Hourihane (Swansea City), Knight (Derby County), McGrath (St Mirren); Idah (Norwich City), Collins (Cardiff City).

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