ireland win | 

I've been critical of Stephen Kenny's approach - but I'm delighted to toast his best day yet

I didn’t see that performance and victory coming as I walked up to the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

Stephen Kenny celebrates their side's victory after the UEFA Nations League League B Group 1 match between Republic of Ireland and Scotland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Paul McGrath

NOW that’s more like it.

We don’t ask for much as Ireland fans and have never expected our team to go out and win major tournaments or beat the best teams in the world.

Yet we have every right to demand is a team giving their all and adopting tactics that can realistically give us a chance to succeed.

Regular readers of my Sunday World column will recall that I didn’t believe Stephen Kenny was using the right tactics for a lot of his reign as Ireland boss and that belief was backed up by what we saw in the defeats against Armenia and Ukraine over the last week.

Playing flowing, passing football might be great in principle, but if you don’t have the players to execute that plan, there is a need to adapt and I feel we saw that in yesterday’s much needed 3-0 win against Scotland.

To be honest, I didn’t see that performance and victory coming as I walked up to the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

The pessimism we all felt watching Ireland fail to score in their previous two games did not bode well heading into a clash against a Scotland side that have some good players.

Yet from the moment the match got underway, I could sense a change of attitude and application from the players.

Republic of Ireland striker Michael Obafemi (left) celebrates with his team-mates after his stunning strike against Scotland (Niall Carson/PA)

I’d say there was a few honest chats among the players and maybe the management as well in the days since the Ukraine game because this was a different Ireland performance.

From the first whistle, they were snapping into tackles and showing an eagerness to put Scotland under pressure that has been lacking in recent games.

They just didn’t let Scotland settle on the ball and won the midfield battle so impressively with Jason Knight, (inset) Alan Browne and Jayson Moulmby led the way.

This Ireland team doesn’t have enough world class players to take on the top teams in a passing contest, so I’ve always felt Kenny’s desire to play total football with this squad was naive.

This performance struck a good balance between the passing game and a more direct approach and that’s the blueprint for what we need from now on.

We have players who can chase balls into channels and lads like Shane Duffy are such a threat from set-pieces so let’s make the most of our strengths and not be ashamed of them.

The Ireland teams I was a part of under Jack Charlton made life miserable for teams and when we had a chance to play football in areas that could be effective, we had the players to do it.

This Ireland side doesn’t have as many top class players as we did in the 1980s and 90s, but they showed last night that they can be competitive on the international stage if they use sensible tactics and show the hearts of lions.

Then you need the final ingredient of goals and after a long wait, they finally arrived in glorious fashion against the Scots.

The roar around the Aviva as Brown’s opening goal went in sent a shiver down the spine and it was wonderful to see young Troy Parrott double the lead before half-time. Then what can we say about the wonderful third goal from Michael Obafemi?

That was a strike to cherish and one of the best we’ve seen from an Ireland player in a long time, with the joy we all felt watching this win warming the heart on a sunny Dublin afternoon.

People were critical of me when I questioned whether Kenny was the right man to be leading Ireland when we lost at home to Luxembourg in my Sunday World column last year, but it was a valid statement given the performances and results we had seen up to that point and since. Yet we all want Stephen and the lads to succeed and the atmosphere in the stadium as the goals flew in against the Scots was just fantastic.

We all know the Irish fans are the best in the world, but we have been starved of goals and hope in recent years and the 46,947 fans who paid to watch the game loved every second of it. At last, we had a performance to cherish and I congratulate Stephen and the players for lighting up our Saturday with a display that lifted fans across the land.

A re-match against Ukraine now beckons in Poland on Tuesday and Kenny needs to build on what we saw against Scotland by putting in another big performance.

These Ireland players may lack a little quality at the highest level of the game, but they showed us all that success can come if the right tactics, attitude and goal power can be fused together.

The Boys in Green showed everything we want from them yesterday, so here’s hoping this was the game when they turned a corner towards a brighter future.

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