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'I'm not in the business of persuading people to be Irish' - Stephen Kenny on 'granny rule' players


Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny


Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Since taking up the post of Irish football manager last week, Stephen Kenny has repeatedly emphasised that he is his own man.

Robbie Keane found that out the hard way. Not even being Ireland's most capped player, record goalscorer and a fellow Tallaght man could see him hold a place in the new man's back-room team.

Neither will there be room in Kenny's plans for the likes of Patrick Bamford, with Kenny making his feelings clear on 'granny' players with a tenuous link to this country. The Leeds United striker is one of a few players with Irish roots who have hesitated in recent years over declaring for the Republic. Kenny will be having none of that.

"I'm not in the business of persuading people to be Irish," he said last week. Does that mean an end to any player donning the shirt who was not born on the island?

"Not at all. Emigration is a strong part of Irish culture, always has been. We find players who grew up in Irish communities in Britain, who came back here for school holidays, etc, who realise that Irishness is a part of their lives. We'll always welcome them to our teams."

But it seems any player eligible to play for Ireland will get one contact from Kenny and if they don't bite at the bait, there won't be a second call.

For those in the squad, or coming up from the under 21 team he knows so well, Kenny will have a new team shape - he will no longer use the 4-4-2 that has been the staple diet of Irish football for years now.

"I believe 4-4-2 is outdated in modern international football, unless you use a diamond in midfield or simply want to sit back and play on the counter-attack," Kenny insists.

"France, the world champions, do the latter, ironically, but they can do it because they have the pace of Kylian Mbappé and the finishing quality of Antoine Griezmann. They suck you in and then hit you."

Kenny doesn't go on to say Ireland don't have players of that class, 'fantasy players' as his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni used to call them, So how will the new manager organise the forces at his disposal?

"We'll use 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. They are very different systems, demanding very different things of the wide players in both of them, but, at different times, they are the ways I believe we should play, whether the opposition would be seen as superior to us, or we would see ourselves as superior to them. They give us a chance of playing attacking, possession football, but without leaving ourselves wide open."

There will be no free pass into the senior squad for Airtricity League players, despite Kenny's knowledge of the domestic competition and its best players. "It's about the lads coming through. Colin O'Brien, the manager at under 17 level, had a squad last year who were all based at home, while I had an under 21 group last year with nine players from the Airtricity League. So these lads are playing for Ireland, but getting into the senior squad is the biggest step up of all."

For now, Kenny must get to know those lads who were in Mick McCarthy's last few squads, but that's a task that coronavirus has put on hold. Ireland's players might not kick a ball in anger for their clubs for the next two months and it may be early September, and the Nations League matches against Bulgaria and Finland, before Kenny can get a tracksuit on and get out onto the training pitch.

"It's not ideal circumstances by any stretch of the imagination," Kenny admits. "There's a crisis throughout the world. You would never have envisaged the possibility of this. The play-off games initially were supposed to be in March, then June, and there is still uncertainty over the dates of games, it's all still undecided and there's nothing I can do about it."

So how will he manage the next five months without training, or playing or meeting the lads? "It'll become a lot clearer when the dates of the games are confirmed. At the moment it's Bulgaria and Finland in the first window in September. Thanks to Wyscout. I have access to videos of all of our players' matches this season."

So Kenny is in the same mode as every Leaving Cert and college student right now, with only homework to keep them going. But he has a lot of it on his plate.

"Yes, we've a lot of homework to do," he says with enthusiasm in his voice, "and this hold-up gives me a lot of time to watch Slovakia, to analyse them further, and Wales, Bulgaria and Finland too for the Nations League.

"And I'll do homework on the possible play-off finalists, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. Hopefully if we get going in September everything will be ready to go."

Sunday Indo Sport