Ireland's best XI under Stephen Kenny starting to take shape
Watch out Azerbaijan. Luxembourg, we're coming for you too.
Stephen Kenny and his players have bought themselves some time. Some relief.
Heading into Ireland's three-game stretch against Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia, optimistic supporters were hoping for seven points and a chance to keep our World Cup playoff hopes alive.
With the games now in the record books, Ireland lost to Portugal, drew with Azerbaijan and snatched a late draw with Serbia. Stephen Kenny's men have two points from their first five games. We are not going to the 2022 World Cup, and it will take results going in our favour to leapfrog Luxembourg to third in a five-team group.
And yet there is not a complete sense of doom and gloom. Several young players like Gavin Bazunu, Andrew Omobamidele and Adam Idah stood up to be counted and Ireland were hard done-by in Portugal in a game they deserved at least a point in.
On Tuesday night at the Aviva Stadium, several thousand of the Irish fans stayed on after the final whistle to chant Stephen Kenny's name, and cheer on his players. Time has been bought.
While Omobamidele pleaded with the nation 'to try their best to keep their faith in us', Matt Doherty went one further by raving about what Stephen Kenny and his assistants are trying to do with Ireland.
"If you saw what they were doing with us on the training pitch," Doherty told RTÉ, "then people would really understand where we're trying to go.
"You could see against Portugal and you saw again tonight that we can play against some of these top nations and not look out of place. We'll keep doing the right things."
We are 16 games into the Stephen Kenny reign and the Dubliner still only has a solitary win over Andorra to his name.
Injury nightmares, restrictions red-tape and positive Covid cases certainly skewed Kenny's early samples of results. If one was being fairer, the Ireland boss would be judged on this 2022 World Cup qualification campaign, and what progress, if any, has been made.
From the five games Ireland have played so far, we are seeing a defence take shape, Bazunu confirmed as our No.1 and Adam Idah now leading the line. Midfield remains a revolving door, but Ireland's Best XI under Kenny is starting to take shape.
With Bazunu and Omobamidele emerging in the Portugal and Serbia games, Ireland now have a back three that Kenny can build out from. Enda Stevens can come back in at left wing-back, although James McClean acquitted himself very well against Serbia. Right wing-back goes to Matt Doherty, ahead of Seamus Coleman.
In midfield, Josh Cullen did well against Portugal and Azerbaijan before falling off against a strong Serbian side. He deserves more starts, as does Jamie McGrath. The St Mirren midfielder has something about him - tidy, brave and with an eye for a pass.
It was a shame that Callum Robinson picked up Covid-19, last month, and was not fully fit for these three Ireland games. He still looks the best option, for now, to pair up with Adam Idah. In time, one hopes either Aaron Connolly or Troy Parrott will push for starting roles again.
Our Ireland XI
That team selection has enough versatile players to switch to 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 if the occasion, or opponent, calls. It also gives Ireland a nice mix of experience and youth on the bench.
Both Stevens and Knight were missed, through to injuries, but both should be back playing with their clubs before Ireland's next competitive fixture.
Up next, in early October, is an away date with Azerbaijan. A win in Baku will not come easy - we all must accept this reality for the next while - but it is achievable.
After that, we have Portugal at home and a jaunt to Luxembourg, three days later. Once again, those of an optimistic bent will be hoping for seven points. Any more, the nation may get ahead of ourselves again. Any less, the inquests begin again.