Nations League: Kenny and crew have hands full

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny picked an extensive squad ahead of their Uefa Nations League campaign which John Roycroft fears may be more testing than we had earlier predicted
Nations League: Kenny and crew have hands full

Cork's Chiedozie Ogbene during a Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

WHILE the conclusion of another hectic domestic season in England and Scotland would have been greeted as welcome news by many a tired body, the international schedule of the Nations League means a few Irish players will immediately be thrown back into action.

Stephen Kenny and his Ireland side start their Uefa Nations League, Group B, campaign tonight with what should be as safe a three points as one could expect from an away game. They play Armenia at the Republic Stadium in Yerevan at 2pm Irish time.

However, long away trips, organised defences, and excessive optimism over results have proved testing tasks for Kenny's sides in the past. And that's before we take into account the worrying security concerns arising from the current civil disobedience on the streets of the former Soviet republic, nestled in the middle of the historically troublesome Caucasus.

As if a sticky away journey wasn't enough for the Irish team, they will also be tested to the limit after their long season by a rather hectic schedule: four matches in three countries across 11 days, including this away game to Armenia, home ties with Ukraine and Scotland and a final meeting with Ukraine on the neutral territory in Lodz, Poland.

 CJ Hamilton during  Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin ahead of tonight's game against Armenia. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
 CJ Hamilton during  Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin ahead of tonight's game against Armenia. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Squad

To deal with these tasks sufficiently, Kenny has made sure to select as strong a squad as possible for that coming four-game schedule. His 27-strong-squad may have seemed excessive at first look, but Kenny is probably right to have as many players available to him rather than going into the campaign and then realise he was shy the service of some key player left behind at home.

Kenny is not shy about calling up talent. He capped 11 new players across his first 14 months in charge, albeit that was during the strain of having much of his squad denied to him by positive Covid tests in the height of the pandemic. For this summer's series of Nation League games, Kenny has called up Festy Ebosele and CJ Hamilton — while Michael Obafemi is in the squad under his tenure for the first time.

Festy Ebosele during a Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Festy Ebosele during a Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

High hopes

The depth of this current squad may also be down in part to the statement by Kenny, early in his reign, that it was his intention for Ireland to top their Nations League group.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during the squad announcement at FAI HQ, Abbotstown ahead of the UEFA Nations League fixtures. 
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during the squad announcement at FAI HQ, Abbotstown ahead of the UEFA Nations League fixtures. 

Ambitious or foolhardy, Kenny will no doubt be eager to not have this statement thrown back at him should Ireland struggle to win the group.

In Kenny's defence, a lot has happened in the world since he made his bold claim, not least the military invasion of one of the group participants. Holding Kenny to this early assertion may now prove to be unfair, but not to the extent that he hasn't retracted it and even doubled down on it in press conferences earlier in the week saying, “Listen, I have always set targets.

“I have set the bar high in every dressing room I’ve been in. I’ve always done that. There’s no guarantees. If we don’t win the group it won’t be for the want of trying."

And in saying that, Kenny has assembled quite the squad of exciting young talent that in recent international games looked very promising.

Kenny went on to say, “We’ve the capacity to score goals. We’re defending better. We’re on a run of good defensive performances as well. The progression of the team, we’ve seen the team evolve over a period of time.

“From March to March, we scored 23 goals, and the team has improved, keeping five clean sheets in the last six games, so we know it is a big incentive."

Danger here

A big incentive indeed and a crucial time for the FAI and our international side to regain some confidence and finances lost over recent qualifications. A poor campaign here, starting with today's game in Yerevan may quickly knock back the current good vibes surrounding this team and return the pressure on Kenny's leadership. And after seeing the quality of the performance of two of our other Group B opponents play out their thrilling World Cup playoff match midweek, it looks like Kenny will need all the luck and talent he has assembled for the Nations League campaign to succeed.

Goalkeepers Mark Travers, below, and Cork's  Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Goalkeepers Mark Travers, below, and Cork's  Caoimhin Kelleher during a Republic of Ireland training session at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland Squad:

Goalkeepers: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth).

Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Fulham), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Nathan Collins (Burnley), Dara O'Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers).

Midfielders: Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), Alan Browne (Preston North End), Jason Knight (Derby County).

Forwards: Callum Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur), Scott Hogan (Birmingham City), Will Keane (Wigan Athletic), Michael Obafemi (Swansea City), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United), CJ Hamilton (Blackpool), Festy Ebosele (Derby County).

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