Stephen Kenny: ‘You can’t ask any more and to lose is so difficult for them at the moment’

Ireland manager upset at some of the officiating as he prepares to lift side for home games

Stephen Kenny walks off the pitch with some of his Ireland players after the loss to Portugal at the Estadio Algarve. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Stephen Kenny walks off the pitch with some of his Ireland players after the loss to Portugal at the Estadio Algarve. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

A sliding doors discussion is a pointless exercise – especially after such a crushing loss caused by the head of the greatest international goalscorer that has ever lived – but when Dara O’Shea cheekily kicked the ball off the penalty spot, prompting Cristiano Ronaldo to slap the West Brom defender across the face, without sanction from referee Matej Jug or VAR or the anyone else, the what-might-of-been thought process becomes unavoidable.

A slap by any other player tends to be a red card. Ronaldo’s penalty was saved by Gavin Bazunu but this night will only be remembered for the billionaire’s soaring headers in winning time; the world record 110th goal for Portugal came when he outfoxed Shane Duffy at the near post before he floated above Séamus Coleman in the 96th minute.

The only possible comparison to such hang time was if Michael Jordan played soccer.

“I think Ronaldo’s second goal, I don’t think anyone else can score that,” said a smiling Stephen Kenny. “I looked at it back there and it is just an incredible header. There were a few dubious decisions leading up to it but they are a great team, there is no doubt about that, and we have to respect that.”

This is devastating for Kenny and his brave team but it is nothing like last March when Luxembourg sacked an eerily silent Lansdowne Road. There is not much anyone can do about Ronaldo but there is something Ireland can do about repeating the collapse in energy that night six months ago after they ran themselves into the ground in a 3-2 defeat in Serbia.

“There is no alternative,” said Kenny ahead of Azerbaijan’s visit to the Aviva stadium on Saturday when the manager promises to dig into a squad already rocked by Shane Long becoming the 15th Irish player to get Covid on his watch. “We do have to pick ourselves up. It is our first time playing in front of a crowd in Ireland. It will be very special and that will be a big boost for the players. They can feed off the energy of the crowd, we hope.

“Some players, because they are not playing regularly, when they give it all like that it is difficult to go again so we will have to re-evaluate that and see how everyone is and make decisions based on that.

“The players themselves, overall, were incredible.”

Kenny would not be drawn on the Ronaldo slap but he did have some words on the officials.

“I have not watched the incident but I did have issue with a lot of his decisions. I did have issue with the free-kick which gave the opportunity for their goal.

“He allowed play to go on but called it back for handball which seemed extremely harsh.

“We were trying to get two subs on for four minutes. The fourth official was very very slow in us trying to get those subs on. We could not get them on anytime which is very frustrating when we tried to get Jayson Molumby and James Collins on. And then they scored which is disappointing.

“When you have to win away, you have to win against the odds in a hometown. The players were magnificent over all, their efforts were something to be proud of.

“Technically they were brave on the ball and put their bodies on the line. You can’t ask any more and to lose is so difficult for them at the moment.”

It looks like Andrew Omobamidele’s impressive debut will need to be repeated this weekend as O’Shea damaged his ankle fouling Diogo Jota.

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