BELEAGUERED Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has insisted his focus has always been on qualifying for Euro 2024 as he attempts to mould a new exciting team.
Kenny succeeded Mick McCarthy in April last year and from the off signalled his intention to build a side which played attacking football and formed in part from the talent with which he had worked as under-21s boss.
Seventeen months on, Ireland find themselves all but mathematically out of the race for World Cup qualification ahead of Tuesday's clash with Group A leaders Serbia in Dublin and with the manager under intense scrutiny.
However, a defiant Kenny said: "With Serbia and Portugal in the group, and the spine ripped out of the team, and we haven't qualified for the World Cup since 2002, did anyone think that we were favourites to qualify or that we should qualify?
"We certainly have a plan in place. I made the decision - right or wrong - that we would build this squad to be a really, really competitive team to qualify for Germany 2024.
"I've taken that decision, collectively we did."
Ireland were unfortunate to return empty-handed from Portugal last Wednesday after two late Cristiano Ronaldo goals denied them a famous victory.
But some of the gloss was removed from that performance by Saturday's 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan, in which they needed a late Shane Duffy equaliser to avoid another embarrassing home defeat after Luxembourg's win in Dublin.
The criticism since has been fierce and there have been suggestions in some quarters that Kenny will be out of a job should his side lose to Serbia. But he refuses to be distracted from his mission.
He said: "That is irrelevant to me, it's part of international management, it comes with the territory. It is not something that I am concerned about."
Asked if he had been given any assurances by the Football Association of Ireland, Kenny replied: "Well, I've been given no assurances in that regard.
"I've taken the decisions I've taken regardless of the impact on myself here. I've not been given any assurances, I've just been given full support by the FAI behind the scenes. They've been brilliant.
"I've done it because we have a very exciting squad emerging."