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'We’re viewing it like a tournament' - Stephen Kenny gearing up for Nations League challenge

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Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

With four games in ten days, next month’s UEFA Nations League will be a busy period for Ireland, but it’s one that manager Stephen Kenny is relishing.

The longest camp before this was a ten-day stint in Spain twelve months ago. After naming his 27-man squad today, Kenny spoke to the media at FAI HQ and said the management team were treating the extended window like its own competition.

“It's an 18-day camp and we’re viewing it like a tournament,” Kenny said.

"Sometimes if you go to a tournament, the max most countries will play is four games. We have to view it like that and prepare accordingly. Some of the players finished four weeks ago, some three weeks ago and some last week. Damien Doyle has sent out to the players, even those on standby, GPS units.

"The players have had to log their stuff every day to make sure they are ready to go, and we have a record of everything everyone has done. It’s a challenge if you don’t play for four weeks, which becomes six weeks by the time the match is. That’s a challenge for us.

"Some players like Nathan and Seamus finished last week, so we have to look at everyone on an individual basis to maximise their physical capacity."

The stand-out name in the squad was Michael Obafemi, earning his first senior call-up since November 2018. The 21-year-old enjoyed a stellar finish to the Championship season, netting seven goals in his final eleven games. The attacker was close to being included in March, but Kenny chose not to select him due to hamstring issues.

"It's the first time in his career that he's had a run of consecutive games," Kenny said.

"It's very hard for young players in the Premier League to get that, just the standard is so high, and the squads are so big, so the move to Swansea, which is a great club and a great platform to really do well in the Championship, you can see really the improvement in his play.

"His hold-up play has really come on well and he's shown great football intelligence allied to the natural speed that he’s got. The performances I've seen recently with Swansea are better than I've ever seen from him. He’s done very well."

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Derby’s Festy Ebosele was included in the squad for the first time. The 19-year-old, who moves to Udinese in July, featured 37 times for Wayne Rooney’s side this season, and has been promoted from the under-21 side.

"Festy is another player who gives us an attacking option," Kenny said.

"I don’t necessarily see him as a defender, but wing-back isn’t necessarily a defensive position depending on who you’re playing. He can come from deep and be effective as a wing-back. Not every game he has played has been perfect. He’s still learning but his speed really frightens players."

Blackpool’s CJ Hamilton also earned a first call-up. The 27-year-old declared for Ireland in April through his Waterford mother. The dynamic winger featured 27 times for Blackpool this season and can play both off the left and right.

"He was someone that I had little information on to be honest," admitted Kenny.

"He lived his first 14 years in Waterford and played in the Kennedy Cup for Waterford, but then he went to England. He came on the road less travelled, coming through the Conference in England for a couple of years and up through League Two and League One and into the Championship. A very interesting journey.

"Obviously he's a very, very quick left winger with a lot of pace. He plays on the right as well, he can play on either wing for Blackpool. He has a very good attitude and he's made a good contribution."

Cyrus Christie, who was released by Fulham this month, also returns to the side to replace Matt Doherty, who is out with a knee injury.

Ireland begin their Nations League campaign in Armenia on Saturday 4th June. They return for a double header at the Aviva against Ukraine and Scotland, before facing Ukraine in Poland on the 14th.


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