The small detail will be covered under new Republic boss Stephen Kenny
STEPHEN Kenny’s press conference via video link yesterday afternoon was more like a football tutorial as he went into fascinating detail on how he prepares his teams.
The affable Dubliner replaces Mick McCarthy as Republic of Ireland senior boss a few months ahead of schedule after it became clear Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off with Slovakia would take place after the latter’s contract expired on July 31 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
No new date has been fixed but Ireland’s trip to Bratislava could be October with a potential final the following month rather than five days later, as was originally scheduled.
While Kenny aims to create an exciting brand of football, he will start with getting his defence in order. And believes he has the raw materials to work with.
“Speaking to some of our analysts, we got the print-out of all the back fours from the top 20,” Kenny explained.
“We went through it at length and I have the document. I looked at the back four against Denmark: [Matt] Doherty, [John] Egan, [Shane] Duffy and [Enda] Stevens and in my informed view that is in the top 10 of back fours in Europe. That's what I feel.
“I don't throw that out lightly, I just measured it up. And then Seamus Coleman, the terrific player he has been for Ireland and still is. Ciaran Clark, 45 minutes against Denmark coming on and then playing in the Premier League for Newcastle…
“So with that six as a back unit, you have a great platform. And sometimes that is the hardest bit to get right in a team. When you think Darren Randolph has been very consistent in goal since Martin O'Neill gave him his debut, he's been very, very consistent and makes good decisions…”
Egan’s ability to bring the ball out of defence, Kenny feels, will also add a great deal to the style with which the new manager wants to incorporate.
Kenny went into greater detail and outlined the way he approaches every opposition and used the upcoming Nations League matches with Bulgaria and Finland as examples.
Asked about how he plans to cure Ireland’s wretched goal-scoring problems – 14 goals in the last 20 competitive internationals since 2017 – Kenny went off on an insightful tangent on preparation.
“It is a challenge – to create a team that creates chances,” Kenny said, who will be assisted by Keith Andrews, Damien Duff and Alan Kelly.
“It’s not just we haven’t scored goals – we haven’t created that many chances. To have a creative team, the best way of doing that is to establish control.
“It is a challenge and one that won’t be easily solved. But we’ll do a lot of work on the training ground and how we’re going to play – I think it’s very important. The way I work, I work in threes – if I can open up a bit, and I know it’s probably too much - but, say for example, I’ve got Keith to take Finland and Damien to take Bulgaria. Damien would focus on Bulgaria in the Nations League and Keith on Finland, in relation to how they play, with our analysts and our chief scout.
“They get a team each. Say they’re the opposition, they would set up against us exactly the way Bulgaria will play, ok?
“Some teams play with a high press, some play with a mid-press, some drop off completely, depending on the opposition and the standard of team you’re playing.
“Obviously there are different formations [but] we have to play against different formations and all our training is based on that, particularly the short space of time you have with players on international duty. We play really, really competitive games where you’re solving problems – how to create, how to control against the system you’re playing against; how do you do that?
“You do that on the training ground and you have ultra-competitive games where the other team is playing in Bulgaria’s or Finland’s system. When you do that it asks questions about: why are we struggling to create and players get opportunities to solve problems by doing that because you’re empowering players and that’s generally how we work.”