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It's time for Kenny to take stage

New Ireland boss can show that having the respect of all his players isn't based on possessing a particular type of CV


LIMBERING UP: Players stretch prior to a Republic of Ireland training session at Vasil Levski National Stadium

LIMBERING UP: Players stretch prior to a Republic of Ireland training session at Vasil Levski National Stadium

LIMBERING UP: Players stretch prior to a Republic of Ireland training session at Vasil Levski National Stadium

After 22 months of imagining what Stephen Kenny's Ireland might look like, this evening marks the crossing of the border from hypothetical debates to tangible evidence.

It's a new dawn for Irish football, a fascinating appointment that was always going to attract a degree of curiosity and prompt lazy reversions to generalisations and stereotypes.

A fundamental lack of Irish confidence, when it comes to our football independence, was always going to fuel suspicion around an individual with no experience of working in the English game taking control of the nation's most important sports team.

There was naturally going to be negative commentary from people schooled, or raised, across the water who believe you need a particular type of CV to command respect.

This was inevitable, and there is little be gained by getting wound up over it. Kenny has the keys to the kingdom. He's got the platform and the opportunity to bring his vision to life and silence that line of thought for good.

There remains a niggling fear that the Kenny era has the potential to develop into a weird referendum on the Ireland football man.

It's almost as if the script is already written if it doesn't work out; the leap was too big, the players didn't respect his background... and so on. This is a ready-made simplistic excuse. It doesn't require original thought.

However, the optimism that Kenny will succeed is based on strong foundations, a belief in his convictions and the creation of a management team stacked with original thinkers.

That goes beyond key arrivals Keith Andrews and Damien Duff. He's changed the backroom team and support staff and is looking to create an environment that should be familiar to players who are used to being overloaded with information at their clubs.

Harking back to how Brian Kerr got on in the Irish dressing room in 2003 is irrelevant. Kerr and Kenny are different people, managing at different times. Remember, one complaint that seemed to come to light about Kerr's time was that some players didn't enjoy long video analysis sessions. This wasn't necessarily what international breaks were associated with.

A generation has passed and Ireland gatherings are no longer about getting over early for a night on the town. There's no Saipan-style distraction lingering in the rear-view mirror either.

One of the problems of the Martin O'Neill era was that the players felt they weren't necessarily getting enough information in preparation for games. O'Neill and Roy Keane believed players could operate off the cuff a little more, whereas Premier League and Championship performers are now accustomed to modern tools being utilised to prepare them in the best possible way.

Kenny wants to replicate that in his work, and went after Andrews and Duff because he feels the young coaches will be on top of trends and patterns in that area.

It remains to be seen if the Nations League opener plots the roadmap for what's to come. Expect tactical decisions that shine a light on his thinking. Kenny has confirmed that he will go with a back four, and it would now be a surprise if Matt Doherty didn't get the nod ahead of Seamus Coleman at right back.

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The assertion that he needs pace in his side points to Adam Idah or Shane Long leading the line and the youngster will definitely see game time.

It's the stated desire for speed that raises questions about other vital calls; James McClean and Aaron Connolly may split duties on the left side. Callum O'Dowda has slipped under the radar in bigger-picture discussions, but a versatile winger with the ability to stretch opponents and cut inside will fare well.

Don't be surprised if one of the two Callums - O'Dowda or Robinson (inset) - gets the nod from the outset on the right.

Kenny said all players who travelled are fit, so barring a late hitch, James McCarthy should end his long absence with a central role in a midfield three. Jeff Hendrick, one of the players who has suffered on account of confusion around his responsibilities, seems firm in what his brief will be.

He will be pushing on while McCarthy sits and covers raiding full-backs. Conor Hourihane will face competition from Jayson Molumby to partner him, while Harry Arter is in the mix too. Robbie Brady may have to be patient but is rated.

"I'm not giving too much away," said Hendrick, who asserted the importance McCarthy will have. "But obviously he's worked on his formation and the way he wants us to play.

"The deep player is in there to help start the plays, but whether it's me or whoever playing in the more advanced [role], they've got to be disciplined to stay away a little bit and keep the room for the deep player. You've got to trust him to get us on the ball."

If Kenny can get the movement in that area of the pitch right, a key problem will be addressed and a template for the autumn will be established. Sofia behind closed doors is not an easy start, but it's not an especially intimidating one either. From afar, he has developed opinions about how Irish teams should approach games like this.

The stage is his now.