Debut U21 call-ups for Troy Parrott, Michael Obafemi and Johnathan Afolabi have reinforced the sense of a rich vein of attacking talent bubbling up in Irish football, something further underlined in Stephen Kenny’s latest squad announcement by a decision to make a distinction on paper between ‘central midfielders’ and ‘attacking midfielders’.
Listed in the press release under the former heading are Jayson Molumby (Millwall, on loan from Brighton), Jason Knight (Derby County), Conor Coventry (West Ham United) and Jake Doyle-Hayes (Cheltenham Town, on loan from Aston Villa)) while bracketed as attacking midfielders are Jack Taylor (Barnet), Dan Mandroiu (Bohemians), Gavin Kilkenny (AFC Bournemouth and, Zack Elbouzedi (Waterford).
“Yeah, it is conscious,” said the manager yesterday. “Four players are clearly central midfield players, the others play as raiders either on the right or left or in number 10 positions. You can lump them in together but they’re completely different positions. I don’t see them as connected.”
And ahead of them are the bona fide strikers, the aforementioned three debutants joining Norwich’s Adam Idah and Brighton’s Aaron Connolly, both fresh from making their senior club debuts in the League Cup on Tuesday night.
So are we looking at a crop of players with real prospects of answering Ireland’s call for goals well into the future?
“They’ve done really well individually and they all are very young,” was Kenny’s answer.
And on the basis that we’ve not selected any strikers that are in the 1998 or ‘99 age groups, we’ve said that these are the ones with the best potential, we feel. Obviously, it will depend on how they go with their clubs, as they progress over the next year or two.
“But I do think we are not relying on one player, hoping that one player does it for us. We’ve got five strikers there who are all different, versatile. We saw Aaron Connolly playing on the left on Tuesday night in a 3-4-3 and he’s played on the left for us.
“Troy Parrott has played for the U19s as a number 10 and on the right as well. He hasn’t really played upfront for the U19s, he’s mainly played supporting the striker.
“I think Adam Idah and Johnny Afolabi are out and out number 9s. Michael Obafemi, even though he’s a centre-forward, has played on the right for Southampton. So they have flexibility. I don’t play with two strikers so five into one doesn’t go but I think some of them are versatile enough that they can play in different areas. You could easily get four of them into the team in different positions.
“We want to maximise the attacking talent that we have. And we’ve got a lot of pace in the team, dynamic midfield players and full-backs who can raid. We want all the players to be positive in their play and confident in themselves on the pitch.
"We want them to display a level of confidence in possession.
"The challenge if you are overloading with so many forwards is that you tend not to able to dominate in possession because they are attacking, so we will have some work to do on the training ground to integrate all of the forwards into an effective team.”
Meanwhile, Kenny confirmed that while Parrott, Obafemi, and Nathan Collins have been selected for the U21s, they remain on standby for senior duty having already been named in Mick McCarthy’s latest provisional squad, which is due to be trimmed back today.
Republic of Ireland U21 squad
Goalkeepers: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Manchester City)
Defenders: Danny McNamara (Newport County, on loan from Millwall), Lee O’Connor (Manchester United), Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Conor Masterson (QPR), Darragh Leahy (Bohemians), Nathan Collins (Stoke City), Liam Scales (UCD AFC).
Centre midfielders: Jayson Molumby (Millwall, on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion), Jason Knight (Derby County), Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Jake Doyle-Hayes (Cheltenham Town, on loan from Aston Villa).
Attacking midfielders: Jack Taylor (Barnet), Dan Mandroiu (Bohemians), Gavin Kilkenny (AFC Bournemouth), Zack Elbouzedi (Waterford).
Forwards: Adam Idah (Norwich City), Jonathan Afolabi (Celtic), Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), Michael Obafemi (Southampton), Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur).