Stephen Kenny sticking to his guns with youthful Ireland squad

Manager says he is confident that radical changes will pay off over time

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Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has spoken about continuing a radical selection policy to ensure an upturn in the country’s football fortunes and at first glance the call up of Norwich City’s 18-year-old defender Andrew Omobamidele seems as radical as they come.

But the teenager’s inclusion in a 27-man squad for June friendlies against Andorra and Hungary is unquestionably on merit. Former Dundalk manager Vinnie Perth already labelled the six foot two inch centre half as a “young Rio Ferdinand.”

“Andrew Omobamidele has done terrific at Norwich over the last seven games,” said Kenny about the club securing promotion to the Premier League next season. “He has been accelerated into the senior squad much quicker than we anticipated but he has looked extremely composed and extremely athletic.”

Born and raised on the Kildare-Dublin border to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, Omobamidele left Leixlip for Norwich at 16 before coming to prominence with a man of the match performance on his debut against Preston North End last month.

“We saw him with the under-17 team at the European Championships here, and then with the under-19 team,” said Kenny. “He has gone into the Norwich team and has not looked out of place.”

The 10-day camp in Girona, Spain provides Omobamidele with an immediate opportunity to challenge Dara O’Shea and Shane Duffy for a central role in Ireland’s defence.

Changing face

Should Michael Obafemi, who finished an injury-disrupted season up front for Southampton against West Ham on Sunday, be added to Kenny’s squad the number of players of Nigerian descent will rise to five.

This has nothing to do with the “radical” change Kenny mentions when it comes to selection, more an example of football mirroring the ever changing face of Irish society.

“Obafemi could still join up with us, it’s possible,” said Kenny ahead of a usually low key international window that will be overshadowed by the 49-year-old’s need to end an 11 match winless streak since replacing Mick McCarthy in April 2020. “He completely ripped his thigh and he was due to go on loan to Swansea. He cannot train every day and he has modifications because of his previous injury history so he is just getting up to speed again.

“He needs a period of rehabilitation and a proper pre-season. I don’t think he has played 90 minutes this season. So it’s possibly two years since he did so. But he has electric pace and if he gets a run of games then you would not bet against him doing well.”

Kenny, finally, has a genuine chance to take a forensic look at his goalscoring options with Adam Idah, Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott and even 24-year-old Lagos-born, Cork-reared Chiedozie Ogbene in line to feature.

“Chiedozie is a very, very fast, powerful right winger,” said Kenny. “We don’t have that type of player in the squad and he was influential in Rotherham getting promoted from League One to the Championship.

“A lot of right-footed players like to play on the left now and move inside. That’s a modern trend. He’s a more traditional speedy right winger who does play on the outside. He’s different.”

Kenny has also named two natural “number 10s” in St Mirren’s Jamie McGrath and the only League of Ireland player in the group, Danny Mandroiu of Shamrock Rovers.

“We probably haven’t had a traditional number 10 in the squad. We had Jack Byrne, but Jack likes to come right back into midfield and make passes. In terms of playing a number 10, the other midfield players like Alan Browne, Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby or Jason Knight are traditional attacking midfield players, they’re not natural number 10s as such.

“But Jamie and Dan both are very much so.”

The goalkeeping stocks are bolstered by Darren Randolph and Liverpool’s Caoimhín Kelleher returning from injury but 19-year-old Gavin Bazunu, on loan to Rochdale from Manchester City, is retained after impressing on his debut in the harrowing 1-0 defeat to Luxembourg last March.

That result, which all but ruined Ireland’s chance of qualifying for Qatar 2022, will follow Kenny around until his methods start to yield results that match the Dubliner’s intent.

‘Radically changed’

Ireland play Andorra, ranked 134th in the world, in Barcelona on June 3rd with a five day turnaround before travelling to Budapest to help Hungary prepare for the Euros.

“We have radically changed things,” Kenny explained. “We bought 15 new players into the international team in a six month period, before this camp, and we capped 13.

“Some might feel it is too much change too quickly and I understand that viewpoint but, in my opinion, that change is necessary because we have absolutely no development for about eight or nine years.

“We had one player through in nine years, and nobody is really looking at that, and there is a huge demographic between players aged 29, 30 and aged 20 and very little in between.

“We have a bigger vision for what we want to achieve going forward and by integrating a lot of these players we have got a lot of talent and we want to see the team thrive.

“We have a clear idea how we want to do that.”

James McCarthy is a notable absentee despite playing 88 minutes in Crystal Palace’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend as Kenny feels the midfielder needs to focus on finding a new club. Veterans Robbie Brady, Shane Long and Jeff Hendrick have also been ruled out due to an Achilles injury, surgery and personal reasons.

Republic of Ireland June squad:

Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph (West Ham United), Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Rochdale, on loan from Manchester City)

Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), 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: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), James Collins (Luton Town), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers).

Republic of Ireland (men) - June fixtures

June 3rd - Andorra v Ireland, Estadi Johan Cruyff, 5pm

June 8th - Hungary v Ireland, Szusza Ferenc Stadion, 7pm

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