Stephen Kenny has drafted Jack Clarke, Aidan Keena and Thomas O'Connor into his squad for the Under-21 European championships qualifiers against Armenia and Sweden after losing Troy Parrott and Aaron Connolly to the Irish senior squad.
Parrott and Connolly played starring roles in the Under-21s’ first games against the Armenians and Swedes and the pair are likely to be missed this month but Kenny insists that he has no issue with the pair moving on.
“These things can happen but it is not my decision,” he said when asked about the pair’s inclusion in Mick McCarthy’s squad. “Whatever decision that Mick makes, I completely respect that.
“Troy’s first two internationals at under-21 level, he scored three goals, which is a terrific return, and he helped us to get six points against Armenia and Sweden. We were terrifically happy to have him while we did, his attitude for us has been brilliant, but it is ultimately about players progressing and so I’m absolutely delighted for him.”
Kenny is hoping his side can get back to winning ways in these two games, the first of them in Yerevan (on November 14), the second in Tallaght (on the 19th), retain top spot in what is a tough group and edge closer to winning a place at a major tournament for the first time ever at this level.
Ireland should really have beaten the Armenians by more than a single goal in September, when Connolly was outstanding and Parrott scored the winner, but Kenny is expecting a much tougher time in the away game, not least because of logistics of getting there with the squad having to fly through London then Kiev.
“It’s a busy, busy window for us,” he said. “This is not what we would have wanted. Armenia then Sweden, getting off two flights to play the second match but that’s the nature of these things. We have to be very focussed on Armenia, and prepare as well as we can.”
In addition to Parrott and Connolly, they will be without influential midfielder Jayson Molumby and Lee O'Connor for the away game as both are suspended while Darragh Leahy and Jonathan Afolabi are out injured and Kenny suggests that the likes of Clarke, Keena and O'Connor (all 20), all of whom he says he has been impressed by recently, may get early opportunities to show what they can do.
“Some players will make their debut and we will need a big performance if we are to get the victory.”
Squad: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Conor Kearns (UCD); Thomas O'Connor (Gillingham, on loan from Southampton), Danny McNamara (Newport County, on loan from Millwall), Dara O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Conor Masterson (QPR), Liam Scales (UCD), Nathan Collins (Stoke City), Trevor Clarke (Rotherham); Jason Knight (Derby County), Conor Coventry (West Ham), Jack Taylor (Barnet), Jack Clarke (Aston Villa), Connor Ronan (DAC Dunajská Streda, on loan from Wolves), Dan Mandroiu (Bohemians), Zack Elbouzedi (Waterford), Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth), Neil Farrugia (Shamrock Rovers), Danny Grant (Bohemians); Adam Idah (Norwich City), Aidan Keena (Hearts), Michael Obafemi (Southampton).