'Hard to fathom how John Egan doesn't have more Ireland caps' — Stephen Kenny

While Stephen Kenny faces a clamour to promote some of his U21s, the new Ireland boss is adamant the defence he’s inherited from Mick McCarthy provides a springboard to success.
'Hard to fathom how John Egan doesn't have more Ireland caps' — Stephen Kenny

While Stephen Kenny faces a clamour to promote some of his U21s, the new Ireland boss is adamant the defence he’s inherited from Mick McCarthy provides a springboard to success.

Namechecked today in his Kenny’s first press conference was Corkman John Egan, the Sheffield United centre-back who, at 27, Kenny is perplexed about having made just three competitive starts for his country.

Egan concluded the regulation Euro qualifiers under Mick McCarthy as Shane Duffy’s central-defensive partner, primarily triggered by the consequences of Richard Keogh’s misjudgement, and seems an integral cog in the new manager’s philosophy.

That centres on adopting a passing style of play out from the back, with Egan’s composure in possession deemed a vital ingredient.

Kenny has been impressed at the development of the Leesider, who only earned his first of his eight caps two years ago.

He likens Egan’s Sheffield United to Wolves, for whom Matt Doherty has shone without nailing down a regular starting slot in the Ireland team.

McCarthy refused to accommodate right-back rivals Seamus Coleman and Doherty in the same team, abandoning the idea of moving the latter into midfield after the first qualifier in Gibraltar.

“Our back-four were very consistent in the campaign,” affirmed Kenny, tasked with the responsibility of completing the Euro qualification mission in the autumn by beating Slovakia and then either Bosnia Herzegovina or Northern Ireland in the play-off final.

The addition of John Egan altered the dynamic. Rather than having a pair of traditional No 5s, it completely changes everything about how you play. That gives a great platform to build the rest, like having raiding full-backs.

“It’s hard to fathom how John has so few competitive caps because, when Sheffield United signed him for €4m (in July 2018), in my eyes he was probably ready then for our first-team.

“With Matt, I don’t see it as a battle against Seamus Coleman, because he can play left-back or in advanced positions. Other players have been picked ahead of him.

“Sheffield United and Wolves have moved into the top six of the Premier League while keeping their fundamental values.

“Their players are never afraid to express themselves in any area of the park. They are comfortable in possession and not carrying anyone when trying to get the ball back.”

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during an interview with RTÉ close to his home in Co Louth. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during an interview with RTÉ close to his home in Co Louth. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There was also a word of encouragement for Robbie Brady, who has been unable to replicate his highs of Euro 2016.

The attacker was a peripheral figure under McCarthy, mainly due to a lack of game-time at Burnley and a serious knee injury, but the incoming chief will offer the 28-year-old a platform to reignite his international career.

Given a raft of attacking talents such as Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott are emerging from the U21 side Kenny presided over for the past year, exactly how Bray fits into his side is just one of the fascinating challenges looming.

Whatever happens, he’s promised fans coming to Lansdowne Road that providing entertainment is uppermost in his mind.

“Robbie Brady, from being our most creative player three years ago, couldn’t get into the 22-man squad for some of the qualifiers,” he noted.

I want to find out why had that happened and try to unlock the potential of the team.

“I do believe in the new generation of talent and we’re not just relying on one or two coming through. We’ll have to see whether those lads are in their first-teams when our matches start.

“I’m working on the basis of our fixtures kicking off in September. These are uncertain times and we’ll just adapt if that changes.

“It is important not to let other people dictate and I won’t be selecting players based on some mathematical equation.

"Just because someone has made lots of appearances doesn’t give them the divine right to be chosen ahead of another player. At the same time, match fitness is important. There is a huge jump between the U23 league and the first-team in England.

“It’s a short life and I will ensure we have conviction in how we play. I cannot promise it will always achieve results but I want every schoolboy club looking at our senior team wanting to play in that style.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox