Wisdom of the crowd indicates a belief in Ireland’s new Stephen Kenny era

A crowd of 25,000 is expected for Tuesday night’s friendly match at the Aviva

Caoimhín Kelleher heads the ball to fellow Ireland goalkeeper Mark Travers during Ireland’s training session at the FAI National Training Centre at Abbotstown. Photograph: Evan Treacy/Inpho

Caoimhín Kelleher heads the ball to fellow Ireland goalkeeper Mark Travers during Ireland’s training session at the FAI National Training Centre at Abbotstown. Photograph: Evan Treacy/Inpho

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

International friendly: Republic of Ireland v Qatar, Aviva stadium, Tuesday, 7.45pm – Live RTÉ Two and Sky Sports

The public at large do not see a ‘friendly’. A flood of ticket sales – only 300 remain from the 25,000 allowed to attend by the Government – suggests that the Irish football fan believes in what Stephen Kenny’s is doing while holding a genuine grá for the 19- and 20-year-olds the manager has fast-tracked into the international arena.

A collective exhale is due on Tuesday night against an exhausted Qatari outfit. If the momentum from Faro and Baku is carried, the Lansdowne roar might, finally, slam the door shut on the John Delaney era.

“There won’t be wholesale changes but there will be some,” said Kenny as injuries to Josh Cullen and Daryl Horgan force his hand. “It’s a great game for us to obviously build on Saturday night. Qatar are like a club team in that they’ve played 17 games since March between Copa America, the Asian Cup in which they’re the holders and also in the Concacaf, getting to the semi-finals, and being in this group.”

The travel schedule for Qatar FC will continue to be a flogging exercise as Félix Sánchez struggles to keep his job as manager in a very long 13-month run until they host the World Cup, especially with Xavi coaching so many of his players at Al-Sadd SC, including the most gifted, Akram Afif.

Mixing them into Ireland’s qualifier group, as preparation to escape the pool stages at their own tournament, has not gone well. In September they lost 4-0 to Serbia, 3-1 to Portugal and drew in Luxembourg before Portugal put three more on them last Saturday in Lisbon.

Richie Partridge, a household Irish football name that never was, is part of the Qatar staff as a physio, having turned an injury-cursed career into a new profession at Liverpool FC before moving to Arabian Peninsula in 2020. At least one Irishman is going to the World Cup.

But enough about the Qataris on what is shaping into a coming out party for this young, talented and charismatic representation of modern Ireland: Kenny’s kids could put on a show.

They certainly crave the opportunity. Gavin Bazunu, a potential Irish megastar, not seen since Roy Keane ruled the Premier League, will not play as Kenny has indicated that Liverpool’s Caoimhín Kelleher will start.

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny with Adam Idah during Monday’s training session. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny with Adam Idah during Monday’s training session. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Kelleher, in the briefest of glimpses, an acrobatic second half against Hungary last summer and the recent Carabao Cup win over Norwich City, has mixed the sensational with a reliability that justifies Jürgen Klopp’s faith.

“I don’t know what you expect me to say but I am happy for him,” said Kelleher of Bazunu’s phenomenal international breakthrough. “I like to see him do well, the goalkeeping group is quite close, we don’t wish anything bad to happen, we all train collectively together to get the three points and if he makes a save I am just as happy as any player or fan watching. I want to get the win as well.”

The sad irony of potentially Ireland’s two best players over the next 15 years being unable to share a pitch will be lost on no one.

Cullen’s injury presents a difficult situation for Kenny as Conor Hourihane, who is next in line, has yet to reignite his career with a move down the divisions from Aston Villa to Sheffield United, nor has he impressed recently in a green shirt. Horgan was poor in Baku, and possibly whipped off at half-time due to injury as Jamie McGrath reinforced his importance to the team.

Kenny must be tempted to give Chiedozie Ogbene a first start and cap Nathan Collins but Ogbene’s pace is a valuable asset to hold in reserve and Andrew Omobamidele, much like Bazunu over Kelleher, has credit in the bank from last month’s Serbia draw.

At least Collins and Omobamidele, alongside the currently injured Dara O’Shea, represent the long-term future of Ireland’s back three.

The manager has been at pains to explain this entire project is a massive work in progress and does not deny the difficulties of so many players failing to instantly make the grade at Premier League clubs, which has seen Spurs loan out Troy Parrott to MK Dons and Manchester City send Bazunu to Portsmouth, even if the teenagers look light years ahead of League One standards. The same concern applies to Ogbene at Rotherham United and McGrath at St Mirren, which makes every Irish match, even friendlies, crucial to their development.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to say anything about either club because they have played big parts in their development in the last year and to be able to play a lot of matches has helped them,” said Kenny. “I agree it is unusual [for players from the third tier of English football] to be playing for Ireland but you got to pick what you see.

“I can’t be influenced by what club they are at and base selection on that. If players do well you have to reward them.”

What keeps shining through is the players in this Ireland squad want to play for Stephen Kenny. Ideally, such infectious levels of belief are shared by the 25,000-strong crowd on a night of new beginnings.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (possible): Kelleher; Omobamidele, Duffy, Egan; Doherty, Hendrick, Hourihane, McClean; McGrath, Knight; Robinson.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.