Stephen Kenny: Ireland reaching the Euros would be ‘extraordinary’
‘I have an idea of how we’re going to play but there’s still places in the team up for grabs’
New Republic of Ireland Stephen Kenny has said it would be an ‘extraordinary’ achievement for his side to qualify for the Euros via the play-offs. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Stephen Kenny insists that qualifying for next year’s European Championships through the play-offs would represent an extraordinary feat for the Republic of Ireland.
After the Covid-19 enforced lull in football, a frenetic 10-week blitz of eight fixtures awaits new manager in the Autumn, starting with Uefa Nations League matches against Bulgaria and Finland.
It is the next game, the play-off in Slovakia on October 8th, that is consuming most of Kenny’s thoughts during this downtime.
Should he navigate his team through that semi-final, there’s another game against either Bosnia Herzegovina or Northern Ireland to hurdle in order to secure a place at the deferred showpiece. Ireland will play two of their group games, against Sweden and Poland, at Aviva Stadium if they qualify.
“I can’t be too experimental during this phase,” Kenny said in Tuesday’s media briefing at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown.
“It’s a unique opportunity to qualify for the Euros in Dublin, so we can’t waste it.
“And it will be a real tough challenge to win back-to-back away matches against significant nations. That hasn’t been done in many, many years.
“It will extraordinary things like beating Slovakia and Bosnia or Northern Ireland away to qualify. There’s no reason why we can’t, but we’ve got to focus on doing that first.
“We haven’t qualified for three of the last four tournaments and our last appearance at the World Cup was 2002.”
Shaping his starting team and imposing his style on them within the short timeframe of international gatherings is Kenny’s prime objective. Admitting he’s unlikely to follow the trend by adopting a formation accommodating three central defenders, any changes are likely to occur further up the pitch.
James McCarthy, it seems, is willing to end his exile under the new boss, while another midfielder with recent history of citing club commitments for his absence, Harry Arter, has attracted his attention after scoring Fulham’s winner against Nottingham Forest on Monday night.
“It was tough for James coming back,” said Kenny about the Crystal Palace playmaker, who last featured for Ireland in October 2016.
“I don’t know all the details; I think he was focusing on getting back playing because it is career threatening when you’re out that long with injuries.
“He’s had a great season with Crystal Palace overall and played a lot of matches, well over 20 in the Premier League.
“That’s been a great start for him because he’s a really good player.
“Harry is available as well and then we have Jayson Molumby doing really well on loan at Millwall from Brighton.
“I have an idea of how we’re going to play but there’s still places in the team up for grabs. There’s a lot of competition throughout the squad, but it is very prominent in midfield.”
One of those facing competition in the midfield area is Jeff Hendrick. Kenny has been monitoring the free agent’s situation, which could see him end up playing in Italy next season.
“I’ve definitely got an open mind about that,” the manager said. “Jeff was playing wide on the right all season for Burnley but probably views himself as a central midfield player.
“I’m not sure what his situation is. Maybe it would have been clearer in a non-Covid environment because that’s probably complicated things. Jeff is a very, very good player who I’m sure will have plenty of options.”