Ireland's face toughest task as France come to town

It didn’t require France devouring the Netherlands as an entrée to establish the scale of what Stephen Kenny's team are up against for their opener
Ireland's face toughest task as France come to town

TOUGH TASK: Manager Stephen Kenny during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Same venue and same nations but different code and expectations.

Six weeks ago, form prevailed at Lansdowne Road when Ireland dispatched France in their Six Nations opener and launched a springboard for their Grand Slam success.

Ireland were the top ranked team in the world, a position the French football team luxuriated in too after their World Cup victory in 2018.

They no longer possess that mantle, as they reside third in the world standings behind the South American duopoly of Argentina and Brazil.

It didn’t require France devouring the Netherlands as an entrée to establish the scale of what the football equivalent of Andy Farrell’s team are up against for their opener but they’ve a few giblets to sate the appetite.

Demands caused by short turnarounds within international windows was a constant theme within Stephen Kenny’s excuse book during his early struggles.

Bemoaning the fact they had to “fly through the night” from Bratislava – all of two and half hours – after the Euro playoff defeat in October 2020 and face Wales in Dublin was far-fetched. It’s the same 72-hour turnaround France are subject to in this international window in between the first and third seeds in their group.

Ireland, by contrast, have had a clear run in the build-up to this blockbuster opening salvo. Facing Latvia, ranked 134 in the world, at home five days out was as laidback a friendly that could be asked for to break the boredom of eight days in camp. It’s just a pity that sloppiness descended it into a slog by the end.

Linked to that prep is the avoidance of injuries to their backbone. Captain Séamus Coleman reported for duty carrying a thigh injury from Everton’s draw at Chelsea but was excused from the leisurely runout against the Latvians and the rest seems to have worked to pass him fit for the big one.

True that Callum O’Dowda will be missed, yet he’s still a rookie when it comes to competitive international matches and James McClean, or Robbie Brady, present different separate qualities to the left wing-back berth.

“James is terrific around the squad,” attested Kenny on Sunday, ahead of what will be the Derryman’s 98th cap.

“James brings a level of tenacity, width and a high number of crosses during games. In a struggling side at Wigan Athletic, he has been performing well, which isn’t easy. James has never let us down.” 

Between the undisrupted, calm lead-in and the availability of all his bedrocks, this gives Kenny the platform to engineer a statement result three years into the job. Sweeping past Scotland last summer was noteworthy for the spike in firepower but the opposition was similarly middling.

Both of the Portugal games from the last qualifying campaign that Josh Cullen referenced as templates for slayings carry caveats too. To be ruthless about the Faro meeting, an inability to see out the game cost them a late defeat while the stalemate rematch in Dublin came against a weakened side due to concerns over suspensions.

From one end of the pitch to the other – starting with Gavin Bazunu and ending in Evan Ferguson – Ireland have a youthfulness that can lay foundations as the spine for a proper assault in ending the wait for major tournament qualification.

Cullen and Michael Obafemi, both Premier League bound for Championship title winners elect Burnley, were blooded by Mick McCarthy and Martin O’Neill but they’ve matured and ascended to become permanent fixtures of Team Kenny.

The team he picks will be empowered to stick with the fluid, often risky, policy of developing patterns by playing out from the back. The progressive approach was recognised by both Kylian Mbappé and Didier Deschamps when they hosted the pre-match press conference at the match venue on Sunday.

“Ireland play an interesting system with three at the back – having a reputation for playing a physical style but playing a lot of good football too,” observed Mbappé, their captain.

The World Cup’s golden boot holder also held praise for Ferguson, offering his only answer in English before dispensing with the translator and delivering the French version to their bloated travelling press corps.

“We saw some clips about him,” Mbappé said of the emerging teen striker, a rise he knows all about dealing with.

“Of course, he is an important striker for the Ireland team but we hope tomorrow we do our job.” 

Preventing them from doing so should warrant exaltation for an Irish squad on similar levels to their rugby brethren.

More in this section

Sport Push Notifications

By clicking on 'Sign Up' you will be the first to know about our latest and best sporting content on this browser.

Sign Up

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

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd