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Clear vision a massive plus for Irish stars


Aerial prowess: Shane Duffy is a key figure at the back. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Aerial prowess: Shane Duffy is a key figure at the back. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile


Aerial prowess: Shane Duffy is a key figure at the back. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

A fresh start with a new manager only ever happened to me once in international football - and didn't it lead to some great times with Jack Charlton.

I made my debut under Eoin Hand who had been in the job for quite a while when he called me up in 1985.

Eoin's team had been robbed back in 1980-81 when dodgy decisions, given in Paris and Brussels, cost Ireland a place at the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain.

But by the time I came along in 1985, the steam was running out of that side.

And, even though I was only a newbie, there was a sense that it was time for a change at the top.

Yet it will always be Hand who gave me my first cap for Ireland - and for that I will always be grateful to him.

The only other time I played under a new international manager was when Mick McCarthy took over at the end of Jack's reign.

But that was like having a brother for a boss for me, for the few games I played under him.


No, the only Irish manager who came in in my time and shook things to the core was Big Jack, and by God I hope Stephen Kenny has the success that our dear departed Jack had over the ten greatest ever years of Irish football.

Jack knew no one when he came in, but he was determined that we would play his way, the style that became known as 'put 'em under pressure'.

Stephen has said that he wants us to play differently than we did under Martin O'Neill and Mick McCarthy, with a 4-3-3 seemingly his favoured system.

At least, unlike Jack, he will meet his players for the first time today knowing some of them from his days as Under-21 manager.

It's inevitable that more and more of these younger players will come into Kenny's group as new squads are announced.

But, for now, Stephen's task is to meet the likes of Seamus Coleman, Darren Randolph, Shane Long and others for the first time and make an impact.

Yet he won't be even able to shake hands with these players when they link up this afternoon - such are the times we live in.

But Stephen will get on with the job and prepare the team to face Bulgaria in Sofia on Thursday as best he can.


What team will start? Well, I suppose four of the back five are easy to predict, Randolph in goal, Shane Duffy and John Egan at centre-back and Enda Stevens at left-back.

But does he pick Coleman or Matt Doherty at right-back?

It's a huge call between two top players - and if it goes Doherty's way, then it means finding a new captain of Ireland - probably Duffy or Egan.

It's seems like Stephen wants James McCarthy as his holding midfielder.

Jeff Hendrick could be one of the other three, as could Robbie Brady, Conor Hourihane and new boy Jayson Molumby.

These are big calls, as is who leads the line. Will it be Long, or the inexperienced Troy Parrott.

Does Aaron Connolly get into the team wide on the left, ahead of James McClean? And who plays on the right of the attacking trident?

All serious choices for Kenny as he has only two proper training sessions, tomorrow and Tuesday, to work with the lads on what he wants them to do in Sofia.

Yet what I've seen of Stephen in the Irish manager's job so far, though it's only on the telly to be fair, he comes across as a manager with a clear vision of what he wants to do.

I've always found that players respond well to that kind of straight talk.

Doubt is an enemy of a professional footballer. Many's the time I had a lad sidling up to me as we went out for a club match, saying, "Paul, what are we doing today."

I get the impression off Stephen, in his comments, that will not be an issue with his Irish team - that by Thursday evening, when the Boys in Green run out in Sofia, that everyone will know their job down to the last detail.

It was interesting to hear him talk too, a while ago, about the fact that his video analysis showed him that Ireland forced 46 corners in the last qualifying group, but didn't score a single goal from any of them.


Free-kicks were fruitful. Remember Shane Duffy's great header in Copenhagen, but for some reason our corners didn't deliver the goods.

Expect Ireland to come up with a couple of set-piece routines that might get the likes of Duffy or Egan free for headers at corners.

Everyone in Irish football wishes Stephen well.

The new boss inherits a squad where young talent is easy to spot, where the success of Sheffield United has brought four of our players to Premier League prominence, and where Matt Doherty's likely transfer to Spurs at last means we actually have one player at one of the 'big' English clubs.

So he has a fair wind at his back. But the play-off match with Slovakia in October will govern the first few months of Stephen's reign.

Win it, and we've a chance of going to the Euros. Lose it, or the final, and a great opportunity has slipped away.

And then 2021 would be governed by the World Cup qualifying draw which happens at the end of November.

Only one team goes straight through and if we were to get a France, Germany, Portugal in our group...

No, we need to start this new season with a fair bit of momentum.

And a draw out in Sofia on Thursday night would do quite nicely.

A win would be the start Kenny surely dreamed of last night before leaving his home this morning, tracksuit over his shoulder, to start work.