Stephen Kenny wants tyros closer to action in World Cup salvage bid

Familiarity and return of crowds key to Ireland manager's rescue plans
Stephen Kenny wants tyros closer to action in World Cup salvage bid

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny speaking to kids taking part in the INTERSPORT Elverys Summer Soccer Schools at Templeogue United FC in Dublin. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Football didn’t quite come fully home for England but Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is planning to bring Ireland’s home closer to his players for September’s World Cup qualifiers.

All four of Kenny’s matches as Ireland manager at Aviva Stadium were played without a fans, a situation thankfully behind them when Azerbaijan and Serbia visit the venue four days apart.

Given the youthful approach Kenny has taken since being elevated to the post 15 months ago, he’s mindful of the familiarity factor.

Over the past decade, Irish managers opted against utilising the window offered to train at the stadium on the eve of matches. Instead, they were based in the suburbs, either in Malahide or Castleknock, before commuting to Dublin 4 on matchday.

Once Ireland returns from their first assignment in Faro against Portugal on September 1, the shadow of the national stadium will greet his players and staff on a daily basis from their new hotel in the vicinity.

It ensures a tradition – mimicking the rugby team’s captain’s run – is re-established.

“We’re adopting a different approach to this camp,” Kenny explained.

“I am conscious that a lot of our young players have not played at the Aviva that much.

They’ve not played in front of a home support, and that’s what they dream of doing when playing for Ireland.

“It is alright if a player has 50 or 60 caps but not if you are still finding out about it. The distance between the stadium and hotel was the main reason why teams didn’t train there.

“So, we’ll stay very close to the stadium this time and train the day before both matches in the stadium. It becomes a bit more like your home.”

Home for Darren Randolph until 2020 was between the sticks for Ireland but that’s not a given anymore. His injury problems, coupled with Gavin Bazunu’s progression, has led to a changing of guard.

Teenager Bazunu has started the last four games, with Caoimhín Kelleher coming in for his debut last time out at the interval against Hungary.

Mark Travers, despite his blunders in Serbia, is also in contention having moved into pole position at Bournemouth following the exit of Asmir Begović to Everton.

Although Randolph has returned to the West Ham squad for their pre-season schedule, Bazunu is more likely to feature regularly on loan at Portsmouth from Manchester City.

“Darren didn’t feel fit enough to come into camp in June after having a tough season,” Kenny revealed.

“Since I’ve come in, even though Darren has played a number of matches and certainly hasn’t let us down, he just hasn’t been able to kick the ball properly. To a length that he would have previously.

“You think about Darren kicking the ball 70 yards for Shane Long to finish against Germany (in 2015). He hasn’t had the capacity do that.

“He’s been looking to take risks rather than kick it long because he wasn't comfortable striking through balls were passed back at him. We'll have to see how Darren is, whether he can nail down a place at West Ham.”

Pressed on whether the No 1 jersey is Bazunu’s to lose, the manager replied: “I couldn't say that definitely at this stage.

“Gavin has done exceptionally well, better than we could have hoped for. Don't forget, when he played his first game against Luxembourg and played in Qatar, he'd never previously been in the squad.

“There was some sort of saying, could he not have played against Serbia for example? But he'd never met the lads before and we were in and the match was the next day and Mark Travers had been in the squad for two years and had two full internationals under his belt.”

Of all his selection conundrums, identifying a goalscorer to cure Ireland’s abysmal record in competitive fare over recent years is the priority. West Ham United’s Mipo Odubeko won’t be the immediate answer as he parks his international future amid interest from England and Nigeria.

“I spoke to his agent who seems quite influential in the proceedings,” said Kenny. “They’re taking some time concentrate on the club career and not make any international decisions yet.

“Our U21 manager Jim Crawford used to give Mipo a lift to training at St Joseph's Boys and knows him that well. Down the line, they’ll consider it.”

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