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Saturday 18 August 2018

Ireland's eye will fall on league - Kenny

Michael Duffy in action for Dundalk. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Michael Duffy in action for Dundalk. Photo: SPORTSFILE

It's a badge of honour for Stephen Kenny that so many of his players have played international football - the only problem is that they tend to do so once they have moved on.

Graham Burke this week bridged an 11-year gap by becoming the first Irish-based footballer to play for the Republic, and he could make it two caps in a week tomorrow night if he plays against the USA. That call-up means Burke is not available for his club to play against Dundalk tonight, a boost for Kenny as he makes a game plan to tackle his former club.

Kenny could assemble a pretty handy XI of his proteges who went on to be capped, with Sol Bamba, who played under Kenny at Dunfermline, probably making the most progress as he appeared for the Ivory Coast at the World Cup Finals, but James McClean, David Forde, Daryl Horgan and Niall McGinn didn't fare too badly.

Kenny says the fitness gap between the top LOI players and those in the international squad has never been tighter, and he has high hopes for a current Dundalk player name-checked by Martin O'Neill (Michael Duffy), with Kenny seeing a pathway to the senior squad now from the league.

"A lot of our players are optimistic that they can go on and play internationally in the future," says Kenny ahead of tonight's trip to Tallaght.

"There is a constant production line of players through the league now. Within a year someone will come through, you'd be amazed how much they develop in a year. We are seeing that with Michael Duffy now, at the start of last year people were saying he wasn't good enough for us and now he's the stand-out player in the league.

"There are players who can go on and become full internationals, no doubt.

"That's not to say we have arrived as we lost a lot of players from the league and we have to work hard to produce them. I know how hard we do work, but we have to work harder to raise standards. We need to work harder to get better, everyone does.

"The league has never been as important to the national team as it is now. So many of the Ireland players have come through the league and it's different now with players going over between the age of 22 and 25 and once they go, they often get capped within a two-year period.

"And the national team has to adapt in that regard too. It's a good chance for Burke and I am sure other players are looking at it as well."

Kenny was pleased to see a host of his ex-Derry players (McClean, Forde, Niall McGinn, Paddy McCourt, Daniel Lafferty, Conor Sammon and Eamon Zayed) win caps but Patrick McEleney is the one that got away.

GREEN AMBITION: Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has tipped Michael Duffy to follow in
the footsteps of Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke and earn an Ireland senior cap. Photo: SPORTSFILE
GREEN AMBITION: Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has tipped Michael Duffy to follow in the footsteps of Shamrock Rovers’ Graham Burke and earn an Ireland senior cap. Photo: SPORTSFILE

"He's too good not to have played internationally, he has an array of skills and a technique you rarely see," Kenny says.

Burke's absence in Tallaght tonight lessens the threat from Rovers, but Kenny is still wary despite his side's five-game winning streak.

"Our players are playing very well, but Rovers is a real test. Their home form is good, they have beaten Cork and St Pat's so we have to respect that. There seems to be a difference between the home and away form," he says. "But we are playing well, we have a lot of pace in our team, the big pitch at Tallaght suits us in that regard."

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