Stephen Kenny firmly focused on preparation for future challenges

Ireland boss using valuable 10-day camp in Catalonia to allow a diverse group to bond

 Chiedozie Ogbene: “I grew up in Cork, I see myself as Irish,” said Chiedozie Ogbene, the Rotherham United winger, one of four Irish players of Nigerian descent called up for this international window. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Chiedozie Ogbene: “I grew up in Cork, I see myself as Irish,” said Chiedozie Ogbene, the Rotherham United winger, one of four Irish players of Nigerian descent called up for this international window. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

On the public front, Stephen Kenny is still dousing flames from the 1-0 home defeat to Luxembourg last March. The Dubliner knows he will be doing so for some time to come.

On the player front, the Republic of Ireland manager relishes the 10-day camp in northern Catalonia as veterans and teenagers attempt to bridge a “nine year” void that created a lost generation of Irish footballers.

There are extracurricular activities to allow this increasingly diverse group to bond before facing Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo at the Estádio Algarve on September 1st.

They also have two soon-to-be-forgotten friendlies (unless they lose to Andorra on Thursday) with Kenny using all these extra hours to provide the group with the gift of “video analysis of previous games,” which does mean the agony of playing well yet losing to Serbia and Gerson Rodrigues’ winner at Lansdowne road are being revisited in forensic detail.

The pay-off is a round of golf in the afternoon.

“Listen, we were going through the [Serbia] game this morning and Aaron Connolly gets taken down for a penalty with 20 minutes to go which was a definite penalty and we had a chance to go ahead,” said Kenny during siesta hour on Saturday, in a typically long answer about the need to promote players like Andrew Omobamdiele, mere weeks after the 18-year-old broke into the Norwich City first team.

“We’re disappointed we got no points. We’re trying to do our utmost to qualify for the World Cup and we have been disappointed with our last window. I’m not trying to deflect from that at all.

“We’ve given 13 players their debut and there are more of those to come through. 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.

“The Irish public will identify with these players and when they are successful, there will be a great connection there I feel.

“A great connection, very powerful,” Kenny repeated before adding the now unavoidable clarification: “But we have to start winning matches and take it from there.”

External progress for Kenny this summer is two clean victories. Internally, he wants the players to show enough football intellect to seamlessly switch between systems and styles. And he wants them to feel same the passion for the jersey as Seamus Coleman, James McClean and Shane Duffy.

“I grew up in Cork, I see myself as Irish,” said Chiedozie Ogbene, the Rotherham United winger, one of four Irish players of Nigerian descent called up for this international window. “But obviously I am Nigerian by birth and I cannot forget that but I am happy that it [the squad] is diverse.

Main thing

“It’s clear that everyone is together and that’s the main thing. We all have one goal and we’re trying to learn football and do well for the nation, do well for the Republic, and get the results we can.”

Ogbene scored 1-2 in his last game for Nemo Rangers, which happened to be the under-21 county football final against Valley Rovers back in 2015 (Cork City pulled him from the replay).

“I’m sure there are many players who grew up in Ireland and were born somewhere else and are obviously having trouble with their decision,” was Ogebene indirect reference to the potential loss of Tallaght’s Mipo Odubeko to the Nigerian national squad.

“I want to create a pathway for them to show that if you live [in Ireland] you get these great opportunities.”

The opportunities are appearing at a rapid pace for young athletes born of parents who did not consider themselves Irish until their children were raised on the island.

Kenny is a strong supporter of diversity, even expressing how uncomfortable he felt about new Fifa laws forcing the FAI to dig into Ogbene’s primary school records to prove he lived in Cork, having been born in Lagos, for three years before he was 10 years old.

“Chiedozie is someone who should have every right to play for Ireland,” said Kenny, “having grown up in Cork and played for Cork City and Limerick. ”

And Nemo.

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