Stephen Kenny believes Ireland’s Under-21 European qualification destiny will come down to their final game against Italy.
The former Dundalk manager has enjoyed a stellar first year as an international manager, leading the Under-21 side top spot in their pool with just three of the 10 fixtures remaining.
Last night’s 4-1 victory over Sweden at Tallaght Stadium all but assures them of a top-two finish, which would at the very least clinch a play-off for the 2021 finals. Ireland have never qualified for an Under-21 major tournament.
The strange dimension to Kenny’s ascent is that his final competitive games will be the double-header against Iceland and Luxembourg next March.
Under a succession planning arrangement, Kenny will have succeeded Mick McCarthy in the senior role by the time of the final qualifier away to top seeds Italy on 13 October.
“I think we will go to Italy to win the group in the final game,” said the Dubliner, looking ahead to next year’s demands.
“The players have had a brilliant year. They’ve played seven qualifiers and five games at the Toulon Tournament in June.
“Part of the job is developing players for the senior team and already some have been part of Mick’s squad. That’s great to see.”
One of those is Troy Parrott, the striker who bagged Ireland’s third goal in the comeback win against the Swedes.
The Tottenham Hotspur forward only linked up with the squad on matchday after McCarthy left him on the bench for their concluding Euro qualifier against Denmark 24 hours earlier.
“We put a request in to see the lie of the land if he didn’t come on (against Denmark),” explained Kenny.
“It’s an unusual sort of situation, not one I’ve been in before. When someone of his ability comes along, you definitely take him and play him.
“We’d been working on other stuff in preparing for the game. Every throw-in you get, you’re working on stuff.
“Because maybe Connor Ronan knows what we’re doing when we’re getting a throw-in, you retain possession. But every throw-in we were getting in the first half, we were giving it away. That was crazy stuff.”
Kenny has no fears about the 17-year-old superstar being disrupted by the changeover in club manager from Mauricio Pochettino to Jose Mourinho. The Argentine granted Parrott his first-team debut in the League Cup in September.
“Troy is very adaptable,” said his international boss. “Goalscorers are rare enough so you have to grasp them. He’s a natural instinctive goalscorer.”