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Kenny admits pressure is on but backs his Irish side to deliver goods

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PROMISE: Stephen Kenny

PROMISE: Stephen Kenny

SPORTSFILE

PROMISE: Stephen Kenny

His promise to bring about a revolution in the way the Ireland team play gets its first test tonight in the heat of Sofia.

And as he grapples with all the factors involved - his first game being away from home, no fans in the stadium, Covid-related restrictions, the conundrum over how to accommodate Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman in the same side - Stephen Kenny says he can bear the pressure that comes with all that is on the way.

Kenny has not held back in his view that the Ireland side need to have a new approach, a fresh mentality, to be more aggressive in attack and more comfortable on the ball.

Making that promise is one thing, making that happen is another, but he says he's ready for it.

"I don't feel any real pressure, I think there's pressure with international management regardless. I don't see any added pressure, really," he said yesterday from the team's hotel in Sofia.

"Sometimes I answer questions too honestly but it's not a deliberate strategy. Maybe it's not wise, maybe other people are wiser than me, you know?

"But I do believe there is something, I do believe that we have a lot of potential coming through the ranks, I think we've got a lot of good players, exciting players, exciting attacking players, coming through.

"I think we had a lot of good players in the squad already, before I was appointed, in the existing squad and I think it's a huge honour really to manage this group, a huge privilege. We want to do the best that we can," he added.

"You can't say you're going to dominate for 90 minutes against really good, quality teams but it's a great opportunity in these two matches to go and play well against Bulgaria, who are revitalised under their new coach, have only conceded one goal in two games for a team that was leaking a lot of goals.

"Finland have qualified for the Euros from a tough group with Italy, Greece and Bosnia.

"Teemu Pukki scored 10 goals in the campaign, which was more than our entire team, and he scored them against good teams.

"For us, we want to play. I'm not compromising on that. We definitely have a clear way on how we want to play. We will be aggressive in how we play, I absolutely say that with conviction, that we'll be very aggressive in how we approach the game itself. We will press high the way we're capable of doing and we'll ultimately want to control the games in the way that we can."

Kenny would not be drawn on whether Coleman would be in the staring XI along with Doherty. It would be a bold call for him to drop his captain if that is his plan, but he did give one indication of his side by talking up John Egan and Shane Duffy, the latter now a Celtic player after his loan move from Brighton was confirmed.

"No-one is guaranteed anything but Shane Duffy and John Egan look like, at the moment, that they are a good pairing," Kenny added.

"Their attributes are complementary and they actually played together for Ireland at underage level before being reunited years later.

"They are a good central defensive pairing.

"We have terrific full-backs in the three full-backs, Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens, and they can raid and they can defend. They are not one or the other. That gives us a good platform to try and do well.

"There is always a tactical flexibility to change at any moment but it's most likely that we play with a back four tonight.

"Defending isn't just about the back four, obviously, and the team was set up in a way that would be difficult to play against and to defend in numbers at times.

"That has contributed overall to a decent defensive record but if you look at the balance of the team, a lot of positions are very competitive and there are marginal calls."