AARON Connolly believes critics of Stephen Kenny will be forced to eat their words as he offered up a glowing endorsement of the Ireland manager's credentials ahead of the crunch European Championship play-off game in Slovakia on Thursday.
Speaking exclusively to Independent.ie at an EA Sports event to launch the new FIFA 2021 game, Brighton striker Connolly suggested snipes from former Ireland players such as Jason McAteer questioning Kenny's credentials to be Ireland boss are misplaced.
McAteer voiced his belief that senior Ireland players may question whether Kenny could shine in the Ireland job after admitting he was not impressed with Brian Kerr's 'basic' methods as he attempted to make the leap from Ireland's underage squad to the senior side during his playing days.
Having worked with the former Dundalk boss in the Ireland under-21 set-up over the last couple of years, Connolly is perfectly placed to offer up a first-hand judgement on Kenny and he suggests the doubters needs to give the new Ireland boss a chance to prove his worth.
"I wouldn't listen too much to someone like Jason McAteer when he questions Stephen Kenny," stated the 20-year-old striker, who started in Kenny's first two games as Ireland senior boss last month.
"As an ex-Ireland player, you would think he would know who Stephen is and what he has achieved, but it doesn't really bother any of us what people say about the gaffer.
"Those of us who have worked with him know how good he is as a manager. Everyone in this squad is backing Stephen 100 per-cent and from personal experience, I have always enjoyed playing under him.
"He's a brilliant man-manager and a great tactician. You are always fully aware of what your job is and what the opposition is all about when you go out on the field and he is very informed on every player he brings into the squad.
"Having a manager who speaks honestly and knows what your strengths and weaknesses are is refreshing. It means he knows what you can improve and what is expected of you.
"Stephen did an unbelievable job at Dundalk, we had some great results and performances during his time with the under-21s and he earned this chance to take the senior team.
"Now it's up to the players to do all we can to make this a successful period for Stephen and the senior team and that means qualifying for the big tournaments."
Kenny's eagerness to embrace youthful performers was evident in his first two games as Ireland manager, with Connolly, Adam Idah and Jayson Molumby getting a chance to shine at senior level in his first two games at the helm against Bulgaria and Finland last month.
Connolly suggests the shift in philosophy to a more progressive style of play will take time to develop, with the lack of time to work with his players on the training pitch a challenge for the new man at the helm.
"Stephen only had a few days with the squad before the Bulgaria game and you could see straight away that we had a different approach," continues Connolly.
"We were playing better football, getting the ball on the ground and trying to build from the back. That's the way a lot of the lads in the squad play with their clubs in England, so it is better for us if we play the same way with Ireland.
"This is refreshing for all of us and we are all behind the way the manager wants us to play 100 per-cent.
"On another day, we win the game against Bulgaria and Finland and no-one asks any questions, but it is all about Thursday night now and winning this play-off game in Slovakia."
Connolly received treatment from the Ireland medical staff following his arrival at the team hotel after picking up a knock playing for Brighton, but he is hopeful of being fit for the game in Bratislava and admits the prospect of playing in a major tournament fills him with excitement.
"I remember watching the Euro 2016 finals and when Robbie Brady scored that goal against Italy, the whole country went mad," he added.
"That's what these big tournaments can do for the nation and it's why we are all so desperate to be a part of it. To have a chance to be involved in a tournament like that and maybe create a similar moment, it would be special. Hopefully we can give ourselves a chance to do that by winning on Thursday."
FIFA 21 is available this Friday, October 9 for PlayStation®4, Xbox One, PC via Origin™ and Steam plus Nintendo Switch.