Kenny: If everyone was the same, life would be dull. Obafemi is charismatic

Michael Obafemi was the standout among the list of 27 players selected for the upcoming Nations League games. His mix of performance and personality appeals to Stephen Kenny
Kenny: If everyone was the same, life would be dull. Obafemi is charismatic

25 May 2022; Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny speaking during a Republic of Ireland squad announcement at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Michael Obafemi’s variety of performance and personality is a combination that appeals to Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.

The Swansea City striker was the standout newcomer among the list of 27 players selected for the upcoming Uefa Nations League games against Armenia, Ukraine (twice) and Scotland.

It has been a tumultuous period for the 21-year-old since bursting on the scene as a teenage debutant in Ireland’s final game under Martin O’Neill.

Since that 2018 cameo in Denmark, he’s expressed his grievance at being cut from Kenny’s first squad, played for the U21s and then snubbed them before making himself unavailable to Kenny in March due to fitness concerns.

A clean slate has now been adopted, eased by his status as Ireland’s in-form striker. Obafemi notched 12 goals for Swansea City this season despite a slow start to his move from Premier League Southampton.

Kenny has no doubts about the player’s desire to report into camp on Sunday, fit and able for the opener in Armenia on Saturday week.

“Michael's is grand,” Kenny said with a dose of diplomacy when asked about his relationship with the player.

“I've had a few meetings with him. Listen, if everyone was the same, life would be dull. Michael is a charismatic guy and I know he's very proud to play for Ireland and he's excited about coming in.

“He's talking about family coming to Ireland for the games and so forth, so he's looking forward to it.” 

On his playing ability, Kenny notes Obafemi’s upsurge correlates with his consistency of run-outs.

“It's the first time in his career that Michael has had a run of consecutive games,” he said.

“It's very hard for young players in the Premier League to get that, just the standard is so high and the squads are so big.

“From the move to Swansea, which is a great club and a great platform to really do well in the Championship, you can really see the improvement in his play.

“I've seen aspects of his play that I haven't seen previously with Swansea – his hold-up play has really come on well and he's shown great football intelligence allied to the natural speed that he has.

“The performances I've seen recently with Swansea are better than I've ever seen from him, so his rate of improvement has been very high.

“He doesn't take penalties and he's still scored 12 goals.” 

Uncapped pair CJ Hamilton of Blackpool and Udinese-bound winger Festy Ebosele receive their first call-ups but Aaron Connolly remains exiled.

On this occasion, Kenny says the absence of a player who up to last September was first-choice is not of his making. The attacker spent the second half of the season on loan at Middlesbrough from Brighton and Hove Albion.

Kenny said: “Aaron is not in the squad (because) he doesn’t feel right himself. He feels the heel in which he has been getting injections to play has been causing him a lot of discomfort.

“When you talk to people in England when you’re going around clubs, a lot of coaches say to disregard a player’s first loan. That’s a saying they have.

“People say most first loans are not always successful. He played a lot of games for Middlesbrough and that was a good experience for him. I’m sure if he has another loan, he will be better for it.” 

Uefa Nations League: League B, Group 1 (Ireland’s fixtures):

Saturday, June 4: Armenia v Republic of Ireland, Republic Stadium Yerevan (2pm Irish, 5pm local time).

Wednesday, June 8: Republic of Ireland v Ukraine, Aviva Stadium (7.45pm).

Saturday, June 11: Republic of Ireland v Scotland, Aviva Stadium (5pm).

Tuesday: June 14: Ukraine v Republic of Ireland, ŁKS stadium (7.45pm).

Saturday, September 24: Scotland v Republic of Ireland, Hampden Park Glasgow (7.45pm).

Tuesday, September 27: Republic of Ireland v Armenia, Aviva Stadium (7.45pm).

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