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07th Sep 2020

“My gut was like, ‘Stick Shane Duffy up front and let’s go long'”

Patrick McCarry

“Ireland have a very Scottish problem.”

With Ireland Slovakia the next game up for Stephen Kenny’s men, The Football Spin sought to take some positives out of a rough few days.

On Sunday evening, social media was awash with people fretting over the pending OVER-REACTION to playing dreadfully to a plucky yet average Finland side, there was just a reaction that screamed of frustration.

For months now, ever since Stephen Kenny officially took over from Mick McCarthy, Irish supporters have looked forward to the return of the game they love, and to seeing what the former Dundalk and Ireland U21 boss would do.

Kenny got his hands on an exciting U21 squad and went 4-3-3 for large swathes of their fixtures. They beat Sweden, drew with a stacked Italian side and generally brought a lot of joy to those that watched them play.

Fans and media members alike speculated on how Kenny would tackle the senior role and we thanked the fixture gods for serving up Bulgaria and Finland in Nations Leagues ties before we would go to Slovakia for phase one of our Euro 2021 playoff scheme.

Many expected a few more of the younger faces in Kenny’s first squad, but he did not go crazy. What we got was Jayson Molumby and Adam Idah, with Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott also included. Parrott scored in consecutive Millwall pre-season games to ramp up the anticipation levels only to pull out of the squad with an injury.

Still, there was no Glenn Whelan and that signalled, to many, the beginning of a new dawn. A dawn that would include glimpses of the glory to come.

Instead, we were rescued by a Shane Duffy header in Sofia and deservedly beaten by Finland in Dublin. In between was a lot more possession than Irish supporters are normally used to but a lack of cutting edge and few moments to get us out of our seats [at home].

In fairness, much of the reaction that followed was lamenting Ireland’s current lot and wondering if we did, in fact, had the players to make any sort of fist at international football. But, for every call for Whelan to return and plonk himself back in front of ur back four there were two others for supporters to hold the course. This will take time, we were told.

Next up, and in no time at all really, are Slovakia and Kenny now has to figure out how to pose an attacking threat while also providing more protection for the Irish defence. The way Teemu Pukki and Robert Taylor were able to breeze through our defences for the Fredik Jensen goal was unnerving.

On the latest episode of The Football Spin, Conan Doherty, Paddy McKenna and Nooruddean Choudry discussed Ireland’s stuttering start to the Kenny era. For McKenna, he can see that the new Ireland boss is favouring the 4-3-3, but a part of him – perhaps a relic from past great escapes – wanted to see James McClean stuck on and Shane Duffy pushed up front.

“My gut was like, ‘Stick Shane Duffy up front and let’s go long. Let’s just kick the ball as high and long as we can, and we can get our goal. We can get our 1-1‘.”

McKenna noted how Ireland’s two best players, right now, are Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty and only one of them is likely to start against the Slovakians.

“Scotland have the exact same problem… two of our best players are in the full-back position. Scotland have Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson and Steve Clarke can’t get both of them onto the field.”

Doherty believes Coleman could have more of an impact going up the right flank, particularly in the Irish system, where the give-and-go overlap often bears fruit [ie: crosses into the box or wins corners for more of the same]. “People have maybe been too quick to write off Coleman,” he says, “because they got excited by Doherty.”

The message from the Nations League discussion on the show was to hold steady and trust in Kenny to get his Ireland team into the groove.

“Finland are a nice, tidy team,” says Doherty, “and we might have lost to them anyway. At least we’re losing now and trying something different. Before, we were losing games so pointlessly, trying nothing.”

Hardly a t-shirt slogan, but a statement that shows where this team are at right now. This Slovakia game was always going to be big, but the recent defeats and failings have only added greater significance on the October clash.

You can listen to The Football Spin on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, or Spotify.

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