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comment It maybe just a friendly - but you can't take the passion out of Ireland v England

Ireland can raise spirits with display at Wembley

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Ireland are hoping that Troy Parrott matures into a top-class international goalscorer. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland are hoping that Troy Parrott matures into a top-class international goalscorer. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland are hoping that Troy Parrott matures into a top-class international goalscorer. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It's a little bit crazy to talk about Stephen Kenny being under pressure just five games into his term as Irish football manager. But when you haven't won any of the five, and scored just one goal in 480 minutes of football, questions have to be asked.

And pointed questions will be posed if the international window over the next 12 days goes badly wrong - because defeats or draws against England, Wales and Bulgaria could cost Ireland a second seeding at the World Cup.

This morning the Boys in Green are clinging to 20th place among the European teams in the FIFA World Rankings.

With ten groups in the World Cup draw in Amsterdam next month the maths are easy. There's a big prize for at least staying in 20th place, a booby prize for dropping even one step on the rankings ladder.

How big? Well, as a second seed, we could get a first, third and fourth seed package of Germany, Greece and Albania. As a third seed, we could get Spain, Poland and Romania. It is easy to see which of those pathways you want to follow over the World Cup qualifiers in 2021.

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Ireland are without the services of centre-forward David McGoldrick.

Ireland are without the services of centre-forward David McGoldrick.

Ireland are without the services of centre-forward David McGoldrick.

The current Ireland international side are not a world power in football. We are a team struggling for confidence and for a goalscorer.

We are praying that an 18-year-old Troy Parrott will soon mature into a full senior international goalscorer.

And yet he is, as Kenny noted in a media chat last week, a lad who - through a combination of illness, injury and a pandemic - has hardly played a 90-minute match in this calendar year.

Parrott is for the future, but for the present it is vital we do reasonably well in these three matches next Thursday (England), Sunday (Wales) and Wednesday week (Bulgaria).

Kenny seemed to grasp the need to do well this week, and the pressure it brings.

He had a tetchy exchange with a journalist who asked the not unreasonable question as to why - when he had already lost the services of centre-forward David McGoldrick - he had left a Premier League player in Shane Long out of the Irish squad for this week in favour of a Championship player in James Collins.

The answer was that Shane had made only a handful of appearances for his club this season, most of them short outings as a sub, while Collins is a regular starter with Luton Town.

Fair enough, but what was left unsaid is that Collins is a good man to have aboard if you are going to hoof the ball up at a big centre-forward who can put himself about.

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Stephen Kenny has gone with Championship player James Collins. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny has gone with Championship player James Collins. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny has gone with Championship player James Collins. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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With his selection of Collins, is Kenny realising that having a Plan B to his preferred idea of playing our way through international defences is not a bad idea at all?

Ireland play England on Thursday because a match in the country where nearly all of our players reside is a much better option than going to Bosnia, which was the original plan.

England were due to host New Zealand, who backed out because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with Gareth Southgate's side having played Wales last month and with Scotland and Northern Ireland playing Euro play-offs on Thursday, England v Ireland was the obvious solution to a problem for everyone.

"Look, it just makes sense, especially after all the issues we had in the last international window, to do it this way," said Kenny. "The logistics of staying in England, playing in England, travelling down to Cardiff and then making a short flight to Dublin to play Bulgaria are the best we can do right now."

Yes, it affords Kenny a chance to lead Ireland out against England at Wembley, a special honour given to only a handful of our Irish-born managers who can truly appreciate it.

But Stephen, who was a 16-year-old Leaving Cert student, doing his English exam the following morning, on the day Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net in Stuttgart, is not thinking of his slice of history.

"I didn't want to this job for the glamour stuff," he said. "That never came into it at all. It's about doing well, winning matches and qualifying.

"Look, would I want it to be a big night with maybe 20,000 Irish supporters inside Wembley? Yes, that would be special, but that's not going to happen, so what this is about is a friendly to prepare ourselves and be ready for the World Cup qualifiers."

This is Kenny's last international window with the Irish players before those qualifiers begin next March with two or maybe three matches in a week, depending on whether the draw puts Ireland into a five or six-team group.

He'll have to tackle that qualifying task without McGoldrick, Ireland's best attacking player of the last 18 months.

Kenny revealed that McGoldrick had previously told him he was quitting international football when our involvement in Euro 2020 ended, even though the player told the media last month that he was looking forward to years of action with Ireland.

The former rings much more true. You quit international football, if that's what you want to do, when a campaign has ended.

Was McGoldrick, who will be 33 later this month, really going to commit to what might have been another two full years with Ireland, as the 2022 World Cup finals are being played in November/December of that year?

And with Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah, Michael Obafemi, Jonathan Ofalabi and Parrott all on the way up as young Irish strikers, was Kenny really looking to a then 35-year-old to lead the attacking line in the heat of the desert in two years time, if all came good during qualifying?

So Kenny talked about using Connolly through the middle of the attack in this window and maybe Callum Robinson too, a player he has got to know better in the last two months.

But the fact remains that Ireland have scored one goal, a thundering header from a centre-half at a corner, in five matches. And all those five games have been against teams ranked around us.

On Thursday we tackle a team miles above us in football's standings, one thought good enough to have a rattle at winning next year's Euros.

Gareth Southgate may not play his full first-choice XI, but what he may do is put out a team which will have three players - Jack Grealish, Michael Keane and Declan Rice - who wore the green jersey at under-age level.

On second thoughts, Southgate is clever enough to take that sting out of the match and leave the trio on his bench.

But for any Irish football fan, you can't take the passion out of Ireland v England. It's time for the lads to put on a show - and maybe even score a goal!

  • England v Ireland, friendly international, Thursday, 8.0pm, live RTE

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