With the Irelands first nations league game around the corner and the anticipation of Stephen Kenny’s debut in the hot seat, it may be time to ponder what is in store for the Irish team. As regular followers of Kenny’s career with his previous clubs which is something, I have a keen interest in due to his first job in professional football was managing my hometown club Longford Town. After 20 years in the domestic game, it has been quite a rise of Kenny’s stock since the days of building a lovable team of rogues and misfits which led to the town receiving a promotion to the previously named Eircom league. However, it is this previous experience as a fan and his fortunes with other Irish based teams with Dundalk has given me an insight into the way Kenny may set up from day one.
As most people know Stephen Kenny’s approach from his exploits with Dundalk and the Ireland U21s there is great optimism to the future of the boys in green under his watch. There is also a wave of pessimism due to the previous exploits of the Irish team under the last three regimes were the football was agrarian, to put it mildly with little excitement and enthusiasm for the senior squad. From viewing the previous experiences of following Kenny teams this pessimism is wide of the mark as Kenny teams have always adopted a positive approach.
The reason I’m optimistic that this approach will be enacted is outlined in the following three terms: personnel, philosophy, and youth. Why mention personnel and youth as two different points is that the current personnel present can complement the emerging youth in the setup. This point is truly relevant as to why Kenny should be bold with his approach from the start as, despite the criticisms of previous regimes, they have laid the foundation for this approach.
The foundation in particular from the McCarthy regime is that Ireland has one of the most miserly defenses to play against in international football. If you were to ask to name the top ten right and left-backs as well as center backs in the premier league currently most people would answer Doherty, Stephens, and Egan within that conversation. Egan and Doherty have been revelations in the premier league this season with Doherty considered one of the best wing-backs in the game currently. With Egan in his debut season, all you need to examine was his last performance against Tottenham to see just how impressive and effective he has been in this current campaign.
With those three players with the addition of Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy shows the abundance of riches that Kenny has at his disposal in defense. This is in addition to the bright youngsters also emerging such as Nathan Collins and Dara O’Shea the future defense looks bright for the national side. While these points are relevant knowing the contrasting styles of Kenny’s philosophy and the previous approaches of other Irish teams is that there is a belief that its time to be bold.
With the defensive foundation already set it allows for a resurgence of a positive philosophy to emerge to take forward for the remainder of the campaign. With Ireland’s first relevant fixture against Slovakia approaching, I believe the time to take a risk and progressively approach this fixture. It may be worth examining what players may complement this philosophy that Kenny may include. With this in mind, it is worth looking at the players and the line up that may suit this new bold approach.
The first area of contention would be the balance of midfield and in this writer’s opinion, there would be a significant change in personnel. The one player I feel that should continue in midfield would be Jeff Hendrick. The main reason I include Hendrick is that I believe that he is a classy footballer that suits the style of play Kenny would approach the Irish setup to undertake. It is, however, the opinion that he also has failed to show progress in his career since his breakout performances in Euro 2016 where he was one of Ireland’s top performers.
As his career at club and international level have stalled due to inconsistent performances and at clubs where the football approach is not seen to be progressive. It is believed that playing a more progressive approach will help bring out better performances in the midfielder. With consistent rumors currently stating that Hendrick will be transferring a free agent with the Serie A, a possible destination it could lead to a resurgence in his career with a positive outcome for Ireland.
While Hendrick is an attractive option to retain for continuity in midfield it is worth outlining the new blood that Kenny could use for his change in approach. The two players that I feel should be incorporated into this new setup would be Jayson Molumby and Josh Cullen. For anyone following the progress of the U21s and other young players making their progress in their careers, it is felt that these two players will be most beneficial to the new setup. In examining the progress of these players, the progress of Molumby is been watched keenly by most observers in the Irish game.
By viewing Molumby with his form for both the Ireland U21s and Millwall currently as a dynamic performer in the center of the park. This with an ability to be constructive on the ball and an underlining ability to pass and hold is a prospect for the Irish fans to be excited about. In conjunction with the performances of Josh Cullen in the center of the park for Charlton this season where he performed the defensive mid-field role diligently. As well as being impressive in the role he is also capable of holding and distributing the ball effectively.
These are two effective midfielders that can bring an energetic progressive game to the Irish setup with a rejuvenated Jeff Hendrick that can bring an impetus for an effective passing game that is implemented by Kenny. With the midfield that has been mentioned that can work in playing the game progressively the attack that can be played can be shown to be ambitious also. To implement this approach that suits the current skills of Irish players available to him it may be time to be brave and to play a 4-3-3 formation with a false nine.
This would be a brave new approach but with observing one player I believe it makes sense. The three players most effective for the forward line would be Aaron Connolly, Michael Obafemi, and for the false nine positions for David McGoldrick. With Connolly and Obafemi operating as wing forwards where they both have pace and finishing ability as well the ability to link with a false nine in the McGoldrick ilk where his link-up play is excellent. As Connolly and Obafemi are shown to be some of the brightest young talents of the premier league it would be imperative to include them in any new approach where they can thrive.
With the false nine roles for McGoldrick maybe an outlandish suggestion by observing his pattern of play his strengths are in holding the ball and bring others into play. Not only can it be a bold approach but a pragmatic to incorporate an experienced forward to assist the younger players in their development. With these changes to implement with a solid defense already developed for the national side, it can give the Irish team an impetus to play a progressive brand of football from the onset.
We all hope as genuine football fans of the national team that Stephen Kenny succeeds as his positive approach is tailor-made for the next generation of players be-ing currently developed. We can only wait and see but I am forever the optimist and for Irish football sake I hope I am right.