Stephen Kenny’s Ireland set for early defining test; Six Nations squad prediction

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

Ireland take on Slovakia in the Tehelné Pole Stadium in Bratislava at 7.45pm. Photograph: Inpho

Ireland take on Slovakia in the Tehelné Pole Stadium in Bratislava at 7.45pm. Photograph: Inpho

In only his third game in charge Stephen Kenny’s Ireland team are away to Slovakia for tonight’s Euro 2020 playoff semi-final, in a match that may well be remembered as one that defined his time at the helm. In his match preview and team prediction, Emmet Malone explains: “crucially, the message has been that Kenny wants his players to be brave. That is absolutely key to the philosophy that earned him this job but it is also to be flung back in his face if things go poorly.” It took five attempts to win one and there’s been more heartbreak than joy down the years, but from brawls to handballs Mary Hannigan has compiled the complete guide to Ireland’s playoff history. Also in playoff action tonight, Bosnia and Herzegovina host Northern Ireland with the winner facing either Ireland or Slovakia next month with a place at next summer’s rescheduled European Championships up for grabs. Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis believes they must draw on their “big game experience” to preserve hopes of reaching a second successive European Championship and avoid the heartbreak of their 2018 World Cup playoff defeat.

Hugo Keenan and Shane Daly are in line for Ireland call-ups this morning when head coach Andy Farrell unveils his squad for the rearranged Six Nations games at home to Italy on Saturday fortnight and away to France a week later. Gerry Thornley also expects young Munster scrumhalf Craig Casey to be involved in some shape, as well as Leinster secondrow Ryan Baird, at the expense of the likes of Devin Toner and Luke McGrath. In his column this morning, John O’Sullivan explains that Munster’s breakthrough outhalf Ben Healy, “may be viewed in some quarters as the shiny new thing but he needs and should be given room to breathe as a player. The 21-year-old is not the second anybody and shouldn’t be smothered by that expectation.” He has put together a list of the 11 Irish number 10s we need to be keeping an eye out for over the coming months.

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