EURO 2020 PLAY-OFFS 'Attack must be our intent', says Stephen Kenny
Kenny has to balance out team for vital showdown
As a Stone Roses fan, Stephen Kenny has probably listened to 'This Is The One' a fair few times in the course of his life and tonight's showdown in Bratislava really is a game that Ireland has been waiting for.
Remember, this play-off encounter was initially scheduled for March, then refixed for June, and had been floated as an option for last month, next month and maybe even 2021 before UEFA eventually settled on an October 8 date with destiny.
The importance of this game was the niggling question mark when it came to the handover from Mick McCarthy to the new manager, with some people within the FAI of the view that McCarthy should take this match even if Kenny was the man for the long road.
But while that view will doubtless be aired again should Ireland fall short tonight, the reality is that so much water has passed under the bridge since then that the concept of McCarthy hanging around for the sake of 90 or 180 minutes, thus delaying the beginning of the Kenny era and writing off the Nations League as a means for forward planning, had more cons than pros.
It's not what anybody wants to hear, yet we don't even know if the prize for qualifying for the Euros is the same any more. The €10m financial incentive remains for the FAI, yet that was tied in with the excitement of involvement in a major tournament in a festival atmosphere in Dublin. This all seems a distant dream right now. At this remove, we really don't know what Ireland will truly be missing out on if they fall short.
Escapism is needed, though, and the eyes of the nation will really be on a Kenny side tonight. There were mitigating factors for the UEFA Nations League struggles, and they will be quickly forgotten if a fitter side looks more in tune for what the manager is demanding of them in this winner takes all encounter.
It is unusual for Kenny to have a game of such importance so early into a tenure that most rational heads are viewing as a project that will require time to develop effectively. This is what makes the game so interesting.
Kenny has asserted that there will be no caution in his side's approach, albeit while acknowledging that penalties had to be practiced in case that scenario comes to pass. He also has the ability to use five subs and a sixth if it goes to extra time, which leaves open the possibility of wildcards such as - say - Adam Idah or Jack Byrne - coming into the thinking when the old school three subs might leave them struggling.
The assumption in Idah's case is that he will be stepping aside for the return of David McGoldrick and more likely to be sprung as an impact sub. On the face of it, the loss of Seamus Coleman has removed one major debate so the main decision for Kenny is around his front three and confirming the identity of his midfield three.
Harry Arter's withdrawal creates the situation where it's perhaps a decision between Conor Hourihane and Robbie Brady to decide who partners James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick.
With Slovakia strong in this area - even without Stanislav Lobotka, who has failed to escape from quarantine in Italy - the structure of this area is significant. McCarthy was the sitter in Sofia and it's a question of whether Kenny prefers to put someone in there next to him in what would be something closer to a 4-2-3-1.
But the identity of the forward players comes into the equation and retaining Aaron Connolly ahead of James McClean would be an attacking move that really would ask questions of Slovakia's attacking full backs. Callum O'Dowda hasn't played since the Finland game and the feeling is that he's vying with Callum Robinson for a slot on the right side.
Going for Robinson and Connolly either side of McGoldrick would be sending out a team with three players that identify as strikers. Movement and the strength of the unit would be tested and this is the balancing act for what is basically a cup tie.
Leaving a Robinson or Connolly in reserve to go with the more defensively minded O'Dowda or McClean is a factor in the 90 or 120-minute Plan A/Plan B ruminations.
"They have raiding full backs and a front three," said Kenny, "Our ambition is geared towards trying to control games because that's what I want the team to be based on. One thing we want to carry is an attacking threat and that has to be our intent.
"Slovakia are a good, open team. The games are quite open, because they really go at you. The point is we're not setting up to contain and hope we score through a set play or a break."
In his view, the Slovaks are favourites although their local media dispute that assessment. Pavel Hapal is under a fair degree of pressure and the Irish preparation has arguably run smoother with the Lobotka issue, goalkeeper Martin Dubravka's absence and the inactivity at club level of key players.
This is a good time to play them. Kenny, by contrast, has a number of form options in the mix.
"We are going to have to really play at the top of our game to win," he stressed
"Players careers are short and the opportunities to get to the European Championships and major tournaments are not so frequent.
"So if you can achieve that, particularly when it's in Ireland, it would be incredibly special."
After waiting so long, Ireland can't allow this opportunity to pass them by.