Stephen Kenny on 'keepers: 'It is a dilemma and one we’ll have to consider'

The spine of Stephen Kenny’s unit has suffered either from inactivity or injury since their last gathering in March and the hope is they can be reconditioned in the build-up to the blitz of four fixtures over 11 days.
Stephen Kenny on 'keepers: 'It is a dilemma and one we’ll have to consider'

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

Perhaps it’s just as well Ireland are facing a minnow hammered 9-0 in their last game when they open their Uefa Nations League campaign on Saturday week in Armenia.

The spine of Stephen Kenny’s unit has suffered either from inactivity or injury since their last gathering in March and the hope is they can be reconditioned in the build-up to the blitz of four fixtures over 11 days.

Two mainstays during their revival for example, Shane Duffy and Jeff Hendrick, have amassed a grand total of 68 minutes over the past eight weeks, those coming in the latter’s final game for on-loan QPR back on April 5.

Injury restricted James McClean to Wigan Athletic’s promotion-clinching win at Shrewsbury four weeks ago but a fresh injury sustained on that comeback will see him carrying a thigh knock when reporting for duty this weekend.

Hendrick’s midfield partner Josh Cullen is suspended for the fixture in Yerevan, which precedes home games against Ukraine (June 8) and Scotland (June 11) before the Polish city of Lodz acts as neutral territory for the Ukrainian rematch on June 14.

Mindful of the rustiness associated with a six-week gap from club action for most of his 27 players selected, compounded by Duffy and Hendrick being excluded beforehand, Kenny has arranged an in-house workout against the U21s for Sunday.

Idealism is traditionally in short supply when it comes to end-of-season internationals.

“Jeff played a good bit for QPR but maybe not enough, which is not ideally where we'd want,” he said of his midfield powerhouse.

“The situation at Brighton has not been ideal for Shane either. Being the type of player he is, the rhythm from playing matches is important for him.

“He enjoyed a very good first half of season for Brighton and carried that form into the March internationals.

“Not getting into the team was a challenge for him and that’s why we’re bringing him into camp early on Saturday.

“He’ll need a run in the practice match to try to get him up to speed. Shane is a brilliant character who brings qualities to the team, including his four goals.” Rotation is unavoidable considering the proximity of games, meaning the Cork pairing of Alan Browne and Conor Hourihane – both Championship regulars during the season – are on standby to deputise for Hendrick and Cullen.

“Conor isn’t as physically athletic as Jeff, Josh or Alan but wants to get the maximum out of his body,” Kenny noted about Hourihane, whose on-loan side Sheffield United lost last week’s play-off semi-final to Notts Forest on penalties.

“He's such an incredible professional. Once he got knocked out of the playoffs, Conor rang me the next morning to say he wanted to come in early for extra training.

“Alan Browne played a lot of games for Preston and Jayson Molumby got back in the team at West Brom, so we have options in midfield where we usually play two.” Continuing the positive vibe, Kenny admits he faces a crunch decision in the goalkeeper’s department.

Gavin Bazunu made the position his own by excelling despite last year’s disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign but Caoimhín Kelleher started the March friendlies in the Manchester City’s stopper injury-enforced absence.

Nor can he dismiss the claims of Mark Travers, Bournemouth’s regular custodian.

“It is a dilemma and one we’ll have to consider,” admitted the manager, declining to reaffirm Bazunu’s status as No 1.

“There’s genuine competition there and they’re the sort of headaches we want.

“Gavin was exceptional over the campaign and Caoimhín has played for Liverpool at a high level. Mark played every week for a side promoted to the Premier League.

“These are good dilemmas but not easy selections, I must confess. I can’t elaborate on it now because we haven’t come into camp yet but we’ll consider it at the time.

“It would be unusual to rotate goalkeepers over the window but we can’t rule it out.” One man set to belatedly feature is Michael Obafemi. The striker’s dozen goals for Swansea City places him top of the scoring charts among Kenny’s striking options and there’s finally a desire from the player’s side to report after he snubbed the last call-up due to concerns over workload.

Extracting the goods from a player whose attitude was openly questioned by his club managers is the task facing his international boss.

“None of us are perfect,” Kenny prefaced his answer. “Michael is different and, as a young player, he’s learning all of the time.

“Russell Martin has a good relationship with Michael at Swansea City and got the best out of him at club level.

“He was always a threat with his pace, from anything over the top, but his all-round game has improved.”

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