By Damian Spellman, PA
A defiant Stephen Kenny has insisted criticism of his reign to date is “irrelevant” to him as he attempts to build a new-look Republic of Ireland team.
Ireland ended a difficult international window with a 1-1 friendly draw against World Cup hosts Qatar in Debrecen after their hopes of making it to the finals were dealt a potentially fatal blow by opening Group A defeats at the hands of Serbia and, on Saturday, Luxembourg.
Kenny has now gone 11 games without a win at the start of his reign and has had to deal with the fall-out from the debacle at the weekend, but remains unbowed.
Asked if he was hurt by the criticism, he said: “I’ve experienced a lot in my life and I feel really strong. To be honest with you it doesn’t hurt me because you know what? I don’t care.
“I know what I’m doing, I’m very clear what I’m doing, real clarity in what I’m trying to implement and I don’t care what anyone says.
“I’m very clear what I want to do and it’s irrelevant to me what other people think, to be honest with you. There are people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to kick us while we’re down, and that’s very evident and maybe that’s to be expected.
“Some people have turned very quickly. We will get back on track and we will give the Irish supporters a team that they can be really proud of.”
Kenny’s evening in Hungary started in the best possible fashion when James McClean, winning his 80th cap, fired his side into a fourth-minute lead with his first international goal since October 2017.
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) March 30, 2021
Mohamed Muntari levelled two minutes after the break but Ireland passed up two glorious opportunities to win it at the death when Callum Robinson missed the target and then fellow substitute Josh Cullen saw his stoppage-time header saved by keeper Saad Al Sheeb.
Kenny said: “I felt it was a good game overall. I felt it was quite an open game, two teams playing progressively.
“Qatar are quick on the counter-attack, they have dynamic players who are quite fast, they have speed in their team, but overall I felt we deserved to win the game.
“We probably had four or five very good chances and two chances in the last 10 minutes – I don’t know how we didn’t score then at the end – so we’re disappointed not to win the game overall.”
Qatar counterpart Felix Sanchez, whose players did not take a knee before kick-off, was happy enough with a draw after victories over Luxembourg and Azerbaijan as his side prepares for the finals.
The Spaniard said: “In general in the three games, we had a good performance, a lot of positive things to take from these three games. We are happy with our performance and the results.
“Today’s game, of course, when after three minutes you are losing 1-0, the team showed that we played to try to win the game.
“We were pressing high, we created some good chances, we took some risks. We need to be proud of our players for the performance, for the effort and for the result. I think it was the minimum we deserved.”