Thursday 23 May 2019

Kenny: U-21s will need to do something extraordinary to qualify

Former Dundalk manager Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Former Dundalk manager Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Stephen Kenny's home debut as Ireland U-21 manager could take place outside of Dublin after he was drawn in a Euro qualifying group featuring past winners Italy and Sweden.

As fourth seeds, Ireland were always up against it and were pitted in Group One alongside the Italians, Swedes, Iceland, Armenia and Luxembourg.

Only the top team are guaranteed to qualify for the 2021 finals to be hosted by Slovenia and Hungary.

Former Dundalk manager Kenny will serve his international football apprenticeship with nine qualifiers in the space of a year, starting with the opener against bottom seeds Luxembourg on Sunday, March 24.

By the time of the concluding match away to the Italians in October 2019, he will have departed to succeed Mick McCarthy in the senior post.

Kenny spoke at his recent unveiling of wanting sell-outs for Ireland's home games during his sole campaign.

That's unlikely to happen at Tallaght Stadium, where the games were held during the final series of matches under his predecessor Noel King, meaning they could opt to spread the fixtures around the country.

Tenure

In the earlier part of King's eight-year tenure, matches were staged in Sligo and Waterford while Turner's Cross in Cork was the venue for several games under Don Givens.

That Ireland's fixtures for the U-17 Euro finals they're hosting in May are fixed for Tallaght also heightens the likelihood of Kenny's U-21s taking up residence elsewhere.

"It's great to start the campaign in March at home and having a total of four home games next year is exciting for the players," said the new chief.

"With the two hosts qualifying automatically, there are only two play-off spots for qualification which in reality means we've got to finish top to qualify. For us to do that, we'll have to achieve something extraordinary."

That's not an understatement. Ireland, who have never qualified for a major U-21 tournament, face the most successful nation in the competition's 40-year history.

Italy have lifted the trophy five times, while Sweden, too, have recent form, causing an upset by winning the 2015 tournament.

IRELAND'S fixtures: March 24: Luxembourg (H); September 6: Armenia (H); September 10: Sweden (A); October 10: Italy (H); October 15: Iceland (A); November 14: Armenia (A); November 19: Sweden (H); March 26, 2020: Iceland (H), March 31: Luxembourg (A), October 13: Italy (A).

Irish Independent

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