'Home-grown talent there on merit': Kenny
Stephen Kenny insists that home-based players are in his Ireland U21 squad on merit, and not just for show, as he gears up for the first test of his international career.
Ireland's U21 side host Luxembourg in Tallaght Stadium on Sunday, Kenny's debut as national team boss at that level, his audition before he takes over from Mick McCarthy in 2020.
While predecessor Noel King leaned very heavily on 'declarees', players who opted to play for Ireland via the parentage rule, Kenny has loomed closer to home.
The last squad named by his predecessor, Noel King, had just three home-based players (Sean McLoughlin, Jamie McGrath and Ronan Hale).
But the late call-up for Shamrock Rovers man Brandon Kavangh, in for Dutch-based Simon Power, means there is a strong League of Ireland bias in his squad for Sunday's game.
Darragh Leahy and Dan Mandroiu, (Bohemians), Trevor Clarke and Brandon Kavanagh (Shamrock Rovers), Liam Scales and Neil Farrugia (UCD), Jamie Lennon (St Patrick's Athletic) Zach Elbouzedi and Aaron Drinan (Waterford) leaves Kenny with more than a third of his squad drawn from the domestic league, not a cosmetic exercise, Kenny says.
"The League of Ireland has never been more important ," says Kenny.
"Some players can develop differently, have an amazing experience in an Academy and then become international players. That's the traditional way but it's happening less and less and as a nation and federation we have to acknowledge that.
"It's been well-documented that a lot of players have come from the league to become senior internationals and I'm sure many more will. There isn't one pathway.
"But the nine players I have are there on merit, not because they are in the LOI. They deserve that," he added, eager to turn his prospects into something more.
"Ultimately, it's a pathway. The U21 team is important in that pathway, in terms of accelerating development.
"Five players have only just turned 18 and them going straight into the U21s is great for their development. How they do here can help them in their progression as senior internationals.
"We've never qualified for the U21 championships before and we start with that in mind and must be ambitious in that position in terms of winning matches to get us in that position," added Kenny, who takes over a side which lost their last three U21 games and has a record of just one win in six.
"We want to focus on winning matches without making any rash predictions. We won't lack in confidence, we will be positive in our approach and that is important for me.
"It's about creating an environment where they can flourish and that's important for me. I want them to enjoy their football and bring an intensity from training to matches.
"We're not at the stage where any game is a must-win.
"We're looking forward to it, we want to do well in it and I have belief in the players, there are some great young players with a good attitude and I'm looking forward to them showing that."