James McClean and Aaron Connolly both fit to feature in Belgrade

Stephen Kenny defends Shane Duffy and says team will not be setting up defensively

James McClean and Aaron Connolly are both fit to feature in Ireland's opening game of the new World Cup qualifying campaign on Wednesday night in Belgrade according to Stephen Kenny. But having missed recent club games through injury the manager accepts that they not in perfect shape.

“I suppose they’re different kinds of issues really,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday morning. “They’re both under-cooked, if you like, because James obviously had an issue with his heel and was recovering from an injection and was off it for a while, so he wasn’t very advanced in his training programme; he hadn’t done too much.

“James has incredible determination to play for Ireland, though, I think that’s obvious - as it is of so many players - so he trained yesterday and is super-keen, as he always is. He’s super-keen. He looks to be in brilliant physical condition, but obviously he’s not done too much of late.

“Aaron, again, is a little bit under-cooked. He hasn’t played in a while, had the rib injury, couldn’t train and has come in on the back of just probably three days’ training, so he’s a little bit under-cooked too but trained yesterday. He did some finishing.

"Tonight in the stadium, when you train at the stadium you get the chance to hit the back of the net, it becomes real. He and Callum Robinson - Callum has obviously not played for a while for West Brom - so every time they hit the back of the net in training it's a good feeling for them and hopefully they can bring that into the game.

“Ideally, you’d want all your attacking players playing every week and scoring for their clubs,” Kenny acknowledges. “But you have to adapt and the players are really excited about the possibility of playing for their country in the World Cup qualifiers. That’s a huge ambition for them and it’s a great opportunity.”

The Dubliner describes managing Ireland in this campaign as the “ultimate opportunity” and a “huge privilege”.


Asked again about any concerns he might have about Shane Duffy's confidence levels after a season at Celtic during which the defender has been criticised by his own club's supporters and mocked by those of rivals, Kenny insisted that the Derryman's longer term contribution on the international stage has to be set against any current problems with form.

“Listen,” he says, “Shane has sort of been dissected at the moment and the microscope is on him in relation to every aspect of his performances, but sometimes players get a move to a club and for some reason, it doesn’t work out.

“You mustn’t forget the terrific form he had for Brighton in the Premier League for a number of years and for Ireland. He was named twice International Player of the Year, so that kind of form doesn’t leave you overnight. These are things that we have to consider.”

Kenny declined to give anything away with regard to his wider team selection which will is bound to involve changes in key areas because of the absence of players like Darren Randolph, John Egan and Conor Hourihane through injury but, he said: "Clearly I have my mind made up how I want to approach it. The instructions will be clear.

“Serbia are an extremely talented team,” he continued. “We’ve seen that in some of the some of their games. Obviously when they beat Russia 5-0 and played well. From our point of view, we are looking forward to the game, though. It’s our ambition to win it, like any other game; we’re not setting the team up in defensive mode.

“The team lacks experience in key positions but there is a lot of talent within the group and I’m hoping that we can create a performance to get the result that we need.”

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