Ireland players set for more chances to develop on international stage

Midfield continues to be problematic with no one playing at top end of the English game

In complete contrast to previous Republic of Ireland regimes, direct media messaging has become Stephen Kenny's weapon of choice to help secure contract extensions for his management team.

That and results, naturally.

Last July, Kenny revealed details to Off the Ball of his heart attack during an Under-21 trip to Sweden in 2019.

Ahead of Thursday's squad announcement for games against Azerbaijan and Qatar, assistant manager Keith Andrews appeared on the same platform to be quizzed about perceived tactical failings and the unsolved mystery surrounding a nationalistic-themed video shown to Irish players before the November 2020 defeat to England at Wembley, which subsequently led to Alan Kelly and Damien Duff quitting as assistant coaches.


“I still don’t know, which irks me a lot in terms of not knowing exactly what happened,” said Andrews. “I was really, really sad to see Duffer go. Like, devastated.”

When OTB's Joe Molloy asked if Andrews had a suspicion of who leaked the information to The Daily Mail, he replied "Yeh."

Andrews also made the point that playing for Ireland should provide opportunities for players struggling to command game time at English clubs - six of the current squad are on loan deals in the lower leagues - with a particular emphasis on Norwich City's young duo Andrew Omobamidele and Adam Idah.

"Andrew and Adam are developing, really, on international watch," said Andrews. "That is the harsh reality of it. Adam isn't getting as many games as he would like, certainly as we would like, at Norwich. That is obviously something we are dependent on. Andrew played very, very well last week against Liverpool. Stephen was at the game."

This 3-0 defeat in the Carabao Cup was a big opportunity for Idah, following commanding, albeit goalless performances against Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia, but the 20 year-old was wasteful on the same night Caoimhín Kelleher was outstanding for Liverpool.

Like the majority of this Ireland squad, Idah could prosper with a loan move to the Championship in the January transfer window. Same could be said of Aaron Connolly, even if the 21 year-old did score two goals in Brighton and Hove Albion's recent cup win against Swansea City.

Ireland’s top flight strikers, Idah and Connolly, have combined for zero Premier League goals and zero assists in a paltry 94 minutes from a possible 1,080 minutes.

Troy Parrott, for example, has looked way above League One standards with three goals and three assists in nine games for MK Dons. Same goes for uncapped Lincoln City attacker Anthony Scully; the 22 year-old has scored 10 goals and three assists from 13 starts.

Not that either player is expected to dislodge Idah or Connolly, although Callum Robinson - three goals and three assists for West Bromwich Albion - is set to shake off a cursed streak of Covid withdrawals and start in Azerbaijan.

Kenny and Andrews must plan without Dara O'Shea (ankle surgery) and Seamus Coleman (hamstring) after both suffered injuries during the last international window.

This should allow Omobamidele and Matt Doherty to revive their recent excellent form in the green jersey. Enda Stevens, having returned to the Sheffield United squad after an osteitis-pubis issue, could start at left wing back, with Doherty on the right, as Ireland seek a first competitive victory under Kenny.

On Emin Makhmudov's goal for Azerbaijan in Dublin earlier this month, Andrews suggested that Josh Cullen and Seamus Coleman would have put more pressure on the ball if it was "Bruno Fernandes cocking his leg."

“We certainly, and I include the players in this, don’t underestimate Luxembourgs and Azerbaijans because we are not good enough to underestimate anybody, that’s the harsh reality of it.”

Gavin Bazunu is the undisputed first choice but Kenny has stated that Kelleher will win his second cap against Qatar, in what promises to be an ultra-competitive decade in the goalkeeping stakes.

Midfield continues to be problematic, as Liam Brady stressed on RTÉ after the Serbia game, so long as Ireland has no one playing at the top end of the English or European game.

Josh Cullen starts regularly for Anderlecht and Jason Knight has returned from an ankle injury for Championship bottom club Derby County but Jeff Hendrick has only played six minutes of Newcastle United's Premier League campaign while Jamie McGrath remains a key figure for struggling Scottish club St Mirren.


World Cup qualifier - Saturday, October 9th
Azerbaijan v Republic of Ireland, Baku Olympic stadium, 5pm

International friendly - Tuesday, October 12th
Republic of Ireland v Qatar, Aviva stadium, 7.45pm

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent