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Kenny doing it his way

It's a clean slate for new Ireland boss

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New broom: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny relaxes before yesterday's press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

New broom: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny relaxes before yesterday's press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

New broom: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny relaxes before yesterday's press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

You could say that Stephen Kenny's first proper press conference at Abbotstown as Ireland boss was a sanitised affair.

With Covid-19 requirements demanding spaced out gatherings of smaller groups, there was probably an element of repetition about a good number of the queries he fielded from facemasked guests. This wasn't necessarily the time to delve into any topic in great depth.

Still, we heard enough from the Dubliner to know that, come September, he is planning to live up to the promise that his side will play without restrictions.

Words are words, of course, and some will need to see it with their own eyes before believing that a new way of doing things is upon us. 

Nevertheless, Kenny's decision to pretty much overhaul the entire backroom staff, with further additions to the physio department and sports therapy area announced yesterday, opened a window to his thinking. 

When the players report for duty ahead of the trip to Bulgaria on September 3, it won't just be Mick McCarthy, Terry Connor and Robbie Keane that are missing. Long serving figures that survived various managerial changes will be absent.

Kenny wants to surround himself with people who either know his way of doing business or come with the recommendation they will suit it. 

"If you're given an opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity, to manage your country, you have to be able to do it the way you would want to do it," said Kenny.

"What I want to do is create a real high performance environment. The people that are no longer working here - it's no reflection on them. They've all been terrific servants to Irish football. But should you have a situation where everyone else stays intact for 20 years and the football people, the managers and staff, keep changing. Is that the way it should be?  I can't see one reason why it should be.

"I just picked my own team. Everyone knows how I work, I know their qualities and we need to have a specialist in every area. They need to clearly know what's expected of them."

Kenny prefers a small staff for the business of coaching and football decisions. The pandemic has prevented them from scouting jaunts to the UK but with Kenny, Damien Duff, Keith Andrews and Ruaidhri Higgins all living in Ireland, they've been able to meet at FAI HQ and pour over videos. 

Tighter

He will also go with tighter numbers when selecting his first squad, with no more provisional long list announcements. The gathering for each camp won't go too far above 23.

He does like 11 v 11 games in training to lay out a gameplan, and spoke of how he had a week with his U-21 squad before their maiden outing to implement a system. Come September, there might just be two days in Dublin before a flight to Bulgaria.

However, his view is that if Ireland are to prevail on their travels in the Euro 2020 playoffs, then Sofia will have to be the starting point for the modus operandi.

"It's always my ambition to try and control games," he said. "And I cannot remember when we (Ireland) last went away from home and controlled a game.

"I'm not saying that we will achieve that but it will be our ambition to do that."

On personnel matters, he wasn't inclined to rule individuals in or out. But you don't have to read too far between the lines to suggest that James McCarthy will come into his plans.

Glenn Whelan is likely vulnerable now, with the emerging Jayson Molumby set to come into the crowded midfield picture.

He will start off with a back four, yet will look at a shape further up the park that will suit the attributes of his midfielders.

Robbie Brady is in his thoughts, provided he can get games under his belt at Burnley. Jeff Hendrick is firmly in his mind, with Kenny well briefed on the player's position and hinting that Covid-19 might have complicated any ambitions to pursue options in Italy.

In reality, Kenny will likely fluctuate between a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 depending on the nature of a test.

He spoke of improvements to Aaron Connolly's game in terms of back to goal, yet noted he has played mostly in a front two for Brighton and the suspicion lingers he will be deployed wide if he is called upon. Michael Obafemi is in a similar boat.

"Most likely, we won't be playing with a front two," said Kenny, who asserted that the movement of the wingers will be central to the formulation of a plan.

"We've had a tendency maybe - and I don't mean this as an implied criticism- that the wingers are wide on the line (and) David McGoldrick is completely isolated. If you are playing 4-3-3 then, ideally, you want your wingers - or wide forwards - playing much closer to your centre forward and making diagonal runs."

Adam Idah is more of a Kenny style number nine, but the stakes of the autumn games means that it would be unwise to expect radical changes. Shane Long should come back into the fold. For all that the ball playing John Egan is a lock, Kenny also affirmed that Shane Duffy is an 'important player' for Ireland. 

"Potential is one thing," said Kenny, addressing his exciting U-21 crop. "Becoming a senior international is another thing. It's a big jump."

They won't be skipping the queue because of familiarity with the new regime. At one point yesterday, the manager even floated the idea that his first-team meeting ahead of Bulgaria will take place a week beforehand on Microsoft Teams or Zoom. For the established pros, that would be a fitting start to what will be a different international chapter.