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Paul mcgrath exclusive Things could get worse before they get better for Stephen Kenny's current Irish side


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DISTRIBUTION: Robbie Brady had trouble with a five yard pass against Finland but gets stuck in for this cross. Photo: Mauri Forsblom/Sportsfile

DISTRIBUTION: Robbie Brady had trouble with a five yard pass against Finland but gets stuck in for this cross. Photo: Mauri Forsblom/Sportsfile

DISTRIBUTION: Robbie Brady had trouble with a five yard pass against Finland but gets stuck in for this cross. Photo: Mauri Forsblom/Sportsfile

I admire Stephen Kenny and what he is trying to with the Irish football team, but I just fear it is going to lead us to a bad place.

Maybe in two or three years time, when some of the abundant under-age talent we have matures and they begin to play regularly at club level, Kenny's tactics could work.

Then we could begin to play as the boss clearly wants.

But asking our lads to do it now, when Stephen hasn't even had a training camp with the lads? It's a big ask.

Again, I reiterate, I'm not advocating caveman football, I'd just like us to get the ball into the opposition penalty area a bit quicker than we are now doing, where, far too often, Ireland's players are passing the ball for the sake of passing the ball.

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Darren Randolph and Shane Duffy. Photo: Vid Ponikvar/Sportsfile

Darren Randolph and Shane Duffy. Photo: Vid Ponikvar/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Darren Randolph and Shane Duffy. Photo: Vid Ponikvar/Sportsfile

Stephen wanted the job last spring, he could have sat back, carried on with the Under-21s and waited a year or two before taking the senior job.

Waited at least until our Euro involvement was over.

No, Stephen went for it and he took this huge job on, knowing that the game with Slovakia was looming - a huge match that would knock us out of the Euros if it went wrong.

And it did. The farce of what went on during the flight out to Bratislava was a sickener, with our players not the required two metres apart.

That wasn't the manager's fault, but what is his fault is that he wants us playing to a system when we simply don't have the quality of players to knock the ball around like some sort of mini-Barcelona.

It doesn't take long for word to get around in international football - everybody watches videos, just like our boss did furiously during the lockdown and so he knew how to negate the Slovaks.

But now everyone knows we are going to knock the ball out from the back.

So they are going to do one of two things.

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Stephen Kenny knows the score. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny knows the score. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Stephen Kenny knows the score. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Either press us hard at times and hope to nick the ball back, as Finland did last Wednesday.

Or other teams will sit back, let us have the ball and then watch us give it to them via a stray pass.

And I'm sorry, for all the talk of nice passing moves, and there have been plenty of them over the five matches of Kenny's reign, there have also been balls given to the opposition when under no pressure.

Balls played out over the touchline when under no pressure and balls played that had promise - but for which the intended recipient was not on the same radar.

You may say the latter is a function of trying new things.

But, again, I'm sorry, Stephen knew on setting out on this project that he would not have the tournament in Iceland that Jack Charlton had.

He knew he would not have the training camp in Portugal that Giovanni Trappatoni had.

He knew he would not have the ten months of a gradual lead-in that Martin O'Neill enjoyed between getting the Ireland job and his first competitive match.

And still Stephen tried to turn a team used to producing inspiration and perspiration for the cause into playing a game with which they are not familiar.

Darren Randolph has been a wonderful servant for Ireland over the past five years.

However, he got caught against Wales last Sunday, trying to play a ball out. We got away with it.

The team didn't get away with it in Helsinki, nor did we got away with Robbie Brady's failure to complete a five-yard pass against the Finns in Dublin.

Look at what is required to succeed at the passing game.

After his first year as Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola summarily fired Joe Hart as his goalkeeper, when Hart was England's No 1.

Why? Because Pep realised Hart was an excellent goalkeeper in the matter of shot-stopping and positioning, but had not got the distribution skills to play the ball out from the back.

Instead he paid a massive amount of money for Ederson, a goalkeeper who does the basics of his trade very well, but can also kick a ball very accurately short or long - or can throw it accurately out beyond the halfway line.

Now Kenny can't buy a goalkeeper for Ireland to do that.

But I'm just saying that if you want to play a certain way, you have to have the players to do it.

Do Ireland now have the senior internationals to play possession football? I say no, not now when we've lost two matches to Finland recently because we gave them the ball.

We can't score many goals right now so let's not play in a manner that invites the opposition to score one.

And remember the most famous Irish goal of the last decade. Shane Long's 2015 strike to beat the then world champions Germany came from a big Randolph hoof up the pitch.

There's more than one way to win a football match and playing in a manner that our lads have little enough international experience of is not a good way to go for me.

At the Euros next year, one place is reserved, via the play-offs, for one of the continent's 15 'lesser' powers.

It will be either Georgia or North Macedonia.

That left 23 places for the other 40 nations of UEFA and we've missed out.

It's not all Kenny's fault. Mick McCarthy was in charge when the Boys in Green had two chances to qualify last year by winning a match and instead lost the first one and drew the second.

But with Ireland's possible second seeding for the World Cup qualifiers now in tatters, I fear this possession game means our international football future is going to get worse before it gets better.

Sunday World


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