Brandon Kavanagh gets Stephen Kenny era off to a winning start

Brandon Kavanagh’s name will be etched in the history books as the player who scored the first goal of Stephen Kenny’s international coming but the hope is they work together again in a competitive setting.

Brandon Kavanagh gets Stephen Kenny era off to a winning start

Ireland U21 1 Ireland Amateurs 0

Brandon Kavanagh’s name will be etched in the history books as the player who scored the first goal of Stephen Kenny’s international coming but the hope is they work together again in a competitive setting.

Kenny has been identified by the FAI are the change-agent of Irish football, firstly as U21 manager followed by a preordained elevation to the senior post for the 2020 World Cup qualifiers starting late next year.

The man who performed miracles at Dundalk is being asked to work his magic again, and 10 weeks on from his appointment, Kenny was in the dugout for the first time for a friendly against the Ireland amateur squad.

As is the case with Mick McCarthy’s seniors, the U21s awake from a fallow period with a glut of games by the end of 2019.

First up is the opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Luxembourg at Tallaght Stadium on March 24, the official opening game of the Kenny era.

A break of two months precedes the schedule being cranked up in early June when travel to Toulon, the first Ireland team to participate in the prestigious tournament since 2020.

They will play at least four games in France, three in the group and a play-off match, in an exercise which will form the assessment basis for the six qualifiers between September and November.

They will face all four of their remaining group opponents over that eight-week period – Italy, Sweden, Iceland and Armenia.

How many of the home-based players forced themselves into the reckoning under a manager whose entire experience is in League of Ireland will be curiously watched.

His predecessor Noel King was slated for using personnel plying their trade at home sparingly over his eight-year term.

Sean Maguire and Chris Forrester were just two gems drafted into his squads without being afforded the game-time many felt they deserved.

King’s rationale centred on the disparity of standard between Ireland and the UK. Long gone are the days when the home fare was being favourably compared with Championship games.

Irish players released by Premier League clubs often accept the option of moving down the tiers, even into the National League, in favour of returning home. As Cork City manager John Caulfield insists, until the financial rewards on offer are on parity, the trend will continue.

Kenny was only a few minutes into his unveiling in November when ratting off a series of candidates for his squad from the League of Ireland. Most got their first audition last night but having a run-out against players turning up after work is a world apart from will face them in the competitive outings. Even bottom seeds Luxembourg cannot be taken lightly.

France could only beat them 2-0 in the last series of qualifiers and they finished the campaign in November on the high of beating Bulgaria.

At least they won’t have Ryan Johansson after the Bayern Munich midfielder only last week confirmed he was defecting to Ireland.

Still, the task for League of Ireland players to displace those on the fringes of English clubs will be a challenge. Keith Andrews, appointed by Kenny as one of his coaches, revealed that point was made to the charges during their three-day camp this week.

“Stephen was very concise with the lads this week,” asserted the former Ireland midfielder. “There are no guarantees of any player getting into the squad for the Luxembourg game.

“There could be none or it might be 10. It is a huge step-up but this week is a massive opportunity for them.”

Of those on show last night, Trevor Clarke and Cork City’s Conor McCarthy looked commanding at the back. The only goal arrived on 32 minutes when Neil Farrugia’s left-wing cross was smashed home by Kavanagh, one of three players also still eligible for the ongoing Euro U19 campaign.

IRELAND U21: C Kearns; A Lyons, C McCarthy, L Scales (S Todd 90), T Clarke (R McCourt 55); J Lennon; Z Elbouzedi (W Fitzgerald 86), B Kavanagh (D Mandriou 78), A Bolger (J Keaney 78), N Farrugia (K O’Sullivan 90); A Drinan (M O’Connor 52).

IRELAND AMATEURS: B O’Connell (G Neville 69); P Murphy (S Gureins 65), G Delaney, S Kelly (C Tourish 76), C McCarthy; T Hyland, J Buckley (N Brennan 72); E Hayes (C Carney 69), L Brady (C Walsh 57), S McGann (A McGreal 46); S Stritch (E Curran 72)

Referee: Rob Harvey (Dublin).

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