'If you’re asking to see a negative, I can't' - Stephen Kenny baffled by criticism of Toulon Tournament squad
Ireland U21 boss Stephen Kenny is baffled by calls from the League of Ireland to leave all domestic based players out of the Toulon Tournament, arguing that it's the ideal window to show how the game here has progressed.
Six home-based players are in the squad that departs for France on Saturday - it was due to be seven until highly-rated UCD winger Neil Farrugia was forced to pull out through injury - and six games have been called off as a consequence.
Managers are unhappy with the upheaval as Toulon is an invitational tournament as opposed to competitive internationals.
Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley said that only players based in England should have been included due to a clash with the regular season here.
His team's game with Waterford this Friday was called off as two Blues players are involved.
But Kenny is placing a lot of stock in the Toulon event, arguing that it's a prestigious tournament that will highlight how local players have improved.
"Initially when I started in the league, you couldn’t get a game on TV, you didn’t have any interest and self-esteem was non-existent," said Kenny, after a first training session with his group.
"These games are televised all over the world. Every club in Europe of note will have someone at it. It’s a massive opportunity for players. If you’re asking to see a negative in that, I can’t.
"In recent history, the league didn’t have an U21 player for a full calendar year.
"We had eight in the last squad, and some of the players excelled - people are now saying these are great players and they’re better than players at major clubs
"We’re giving players the opportunity to really excel at the highest level, and that kind of exposure reflects well on the league.
"To say that when we go to a prestigious tournament, with a worldwide TV audience, that we should not pick players from our league and we should only pick players from England - I couldn’t agree with that but people are entitled to their opinion."
Reading winger Josh Barrett has been called in to replace Farrugia, who shone in March's win over Luxembourg and has since spent time with Manchester City.
The UCD player has a French father and is 'devastated' to be missing out.
Kenny's team will play a training match against Mick McCarthy's senior squad tomorrow.
They kick off their Toulon participation against China on Monday, with games against Mexico and Bahrain to follow. Liverpool's third-choice keeper Caoimhin Kelleher will travel to France from Madrid after Saturday's Champions League final.