Stephen Kenny must choose between Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty for the role of Ireland’s right-winger against Portugal on Thursday – the loser playing against Luxembourg this week. The Irish boss doesn’t want to overload either man as the ill-fated 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign ends with this week’s two games. “SÃ©amus is our captain, our leader, captain of his club and of his country and he was brilliant for us,” said the Irish manager. âBut he has serious hamstring issues. Grade 2 and 3 injuries lately, based on playing close-quarters games – so I think we just have to try and look at that. However, the Boys in Green boss is full of praise for Doherty, who is getting used to a new style at Tottenham under Antonio Conte. Drove âIt was Matt, against Serbia in September, who pushed us, I felt, when we faced him. âHe received crosses late, one led to the corner which led to the throw-in from which we forced the OG. âMatt showed there and was great in this game. He also played very well in Azerbaijan. But Doherty also missed games. âHe had a little hamstring problem after the game against Qatar and missed 10 days. But I prefer to look at everything in terms of building a team, âadded the manager. âTake the Nations League schedule next June, we have four games in 12 days. I don’t think SÃ©amus or Matt can do (all) that. âMatt had this little problem with his hamstrings, this minor problem twice against Luxembourg and then Qatar, in Game 2 of a pretty intense period. âOn the one hand you can maybe say that they are competing with each other, but on the other hand you can say that they are competing with each other to make us better. And that’s what we need to have, as we go along. Unless losing to Luxembourg, Kenny will surely receive the go-ahead from the FAI to continue as Ireland’s leader for the Euro 2024 qualifiers. But a Winter World Cup final is the year next means these competitions won’t start until March 2023, so when the final whistle blows in Luxembourg next Sunday evening, the Irish footballers and manager will have a 16-month wait for an international qualifier. So it’s no wonder that last month Kenny challenged his players to win our Nations League group next year, which will feature four games in June and two at the end of September. This gives the team something to aim for and to aim for during the long gap that awaits the start of qualifying for the Euro. âThe League of Nations is becoming a big competition,â he said in response. âThe semi-finals and finals that have been going on for the last two years for the top teams were great little mini-tournaments.
âThe six matches, we want to do well.
âAt first some people thought it was just a replacement for friendlies, but it’s a lot more than that now.
âIt’s a real competition, very competitive. I was a little experimental, of course, in the Nations League games last time around.
âThen we had Covid and we lost five of our starting eleven on the morning of the Wales game. You cannot choose them then.
“We are now trying to put together a team to go to June and say ‘okay we have two players who can play there, we have two players who can play there.
âWe can go through all four games and let’s go and try to reach a top. We weren’t relegated to the Nations League, now it’s not a party, but it was important to keep our Group B status.
âWe played badly in the home game against Bulgaria, we were missing a lot of players, but it was important not to lose it because Bulgaria lost.
âSo I think that’s why it’s good.
“These games are awesome, Portugal are awesome, the Luxembourg game is awesome, we will have two friendlies in March and then we will have these six Nations League games.”
Kenny is not at all worried that his players will “rub shoulders” with the fallow year of 2022.
“No, the players see it with their own eyes, we have known from the last two international windows that we are not going to qualify for the World Cup.
âSo for us right now we want to perform well, try to win as many games as possible and improve collectively.
“And we know that entering the League of Nations in June gives you the assurance of a play-off for the Euro if you do well.
“So that establishes a culture of trying to achieve things, of trying to win, of trying to do the best you can in the group.”
A mindless Irish team has nothing
Irish international football teams have always been known for their solidarity and team spirit. As Sunday World columnist Paul McGrath has said repeatedly, “If an Irish football team has no spirit, it has nothing”.
And Stephen Kenny doesn’t like to talk about team spirit, because you immediately deduce that it was not good under previous regimes.
But he chose an unusual example to comment on team building and spirit in the Irish camp.
“We regard Italy as the European champions, I saw them during the summer as the ultimate team of self-sacrifice, they were all Serie A stars, but every player has sacrificed himself for the team, whether or not it was selected to start, or go.
âFor me, the Italians embodied this spirit during the Euro. We have to have that culture in the team and in the team, and that’s what we’re going to need. “
Stephen Kenny wants top-tier opposition for Ireland’s two friendlies next March. He also wants both games at the Aviva Stadium.
âYes, we will look for strong countries to come here. I have heard some names mentioned which are exciting but nothing is finalized. And the idea is that we want to play in Dublin.
Decent crowds in both matches would, of course, help to stabilize the FAI’s dilapidated finances to a small extent.
Kenny could have a nice set of opponents to choose from as the 2022 World Cup qualifiers take place at the end of March, so Ireland would be looking for at least one of the teams that qualified directly to come to Dublin.
Germany and Denmark have already qualified and world champions France or European champions Italy, who hope to complete their own qualification soon, could be options. Now they would be tasty visitors!