James McClean starts ahead of Connolly as Ireland name team for Slovakia 4 months ago

James McClean starts ahead of Connolly as Ireland name team for Slovakia

Here we are now, in a European Championship playoff, with Stephen Kenny as manager.

When Ireland were being hammered by Wales and failing to score against Denmark to qualify for this playoff via the trusty route of coming bottom of their Nations League group (don't ask), you'd never thought we'd be here.

Not with that form, not with John Delaney announcing that Mick McCarthy was taking over for this campaign, and not with the world shutting down since.

But, lads, listen. We are here. Stephen Kenny is here. And as the luck keeps piling up (on the football front obviously), no fans are there so the two away games that Ireland have to win are a little less daunting looking now.

They do, however, have to win them and winning big games isn't always something that has come naturally to this national team. Now, they must win two big games and two away games and a 1-1 won't be enough - not without penalties.

First up, Slovakia.

Let's be clear though, if this obstacle isn't scaled, there won't be any second day out. The winner advances to play Bosnia or Northern Ireland and the loser can forget about Euro 2020, in 2021.

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Stephen Kenny hasn't suddenly lost his nerve or identity though and called about three solid defensive midfielders to sit in front of the back line. No, he's named an exciting team to take the game to the Slovaks and he has sprang one surprise with the inclusion of James McClean.

That leaves some exciting options on the bench including:

  • Jack Byrne
  • Robbie Brady
  • Shane Long
  • Callum O'Dowda

That bench has grown suddenly weaker with the news that both Aaron Connolly or Adam Idah are out of the squad.

Neither Stephen Kenny nor the FAI (in their statement) elaborated but a second member of the Irish backroom team has tested positive for Covid-19.

This is it, folks. Go well.