Football

Predicting Stephen Kenny's Ireland Squad For September Fixtures

Predicting Stephen Kenny's Ireland Squad For September Fixtures

As exciting as the return of the Premier League has been, and despite the League of Ireland's comeback only being around the corner, it is still difficult for us to take our mind off international football.

September will see the long awaited debut of Stephen Kenny in his role as Ireland manager, with the men's international team set to face into a pair of UEFA Nations League fixtures against Bulgaria and Finland at the start of September.

Those two games will essentially act as a warmup for the Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia a month later, giving Kenny the opportunity to nail down his best XI ahead of the trip to Bratislava.

He also has the chance to test out some unproven players at this level.

While much can change over the next two months, we have attempted to predict his squad for those two games in September. Here's what we came up with.

Goalkeepers

Darren Randolph remains as close to certain as you can get as a starter for Ireland, despite the fact that he now acts as a backup at West Ham. He looks set to remain as Ireland's number one for the next couple of years at least.

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In the backup roles, Mark Travers seems to have cemented his place as second choice. The Bournemouth player has only featured on a couple of occasions this season, but you get the sense he could look for more first team football during the summer transfer window.

While Kenny could be tempted to go with Caoimhin Kelleher here, he is more likely to leave him with the U21s for their friendly against Slovakia at the start of September. That leaves Kieran O'Hara, who was recently released by Manchester United.

 

Defenders

The two right back slots fill themselves in this squad, with Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty certain to be selected if they are fit.

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The more interesting question is whether Stephen Kenny can fit both into the same team. He hinted that he would try to do so during his introductory press conference and we would not be surprised to see Doherty start on the right wing in at least one of these two fixtures.

Shane Duffy and John Egan are nailed on as the first choice pairing at centre back, with Kenny admitting to being a massive fan of the Sheffield United man.

While Mick McCarthy sometimes selected only three centre backs in his squads, we're going with four here. Who the other two should be is an interesting discussion.

We think Kenny will go with Darragh Lenihan, who has had a very strong season with Blackburn in the Championship. With Ciaran Clark set for a spell on the sidelines due to an ankle operation, this is also the perfect chance to introduce Dara O'Shea to the squad.

At left back, Enda Stevens has established himself a certain starter. There hasn't been a consistent backup under McCarthy, but Ryan Manning could be given a chance to stake a claim for that spot in these two games after impressing at QPR over the last 12 months.

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Midfielders

The battle for spots in the midfield is an interesting one. Jeff Hendrick, Alan Browne, and Conor Hourihane seem likely to continue as ever presents in the squad.

After that, you'd imagine Kenny will give U21 captain Jayson Molumby his long overdue introduction to senior international football. The type of midfield player Ireland have long been lacking, we expect him to come into the starting team right away.

James McCarthy seems likely to make his return to international football and would be favourite to start in the holding role with Glenn Whelan unlikely to feature. Josh Cullen will also play a part after another good season at Charlton, while Jack Byrne will be seen as a different option to have in the middle.

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Jason Knight can consider himself unlucky to miss out, but a stint with the U21s may be more beneficial.

 

Forwards/Wingers

Despite his lack of goals, David McGoldrick brings too much to the squad to ever consider overlooking. He is likely to remain as first choice striker, although he could be pushed by a resurgent Shane Long.

After those two, Ireland have a number of options who play both through the middle and out wide. Aaron Connolly was used mainly as a left winger under Kenny at U21 level, and having impressed for Brighton since the resumption of the season, he could be set to come straight into the starting XI in that spot.

Michael Obafemi has had a similar impact at Southampton and you would assume it will be enough for the striker, who only turns 20-years old tomorrow, to be get into the squad. Callum Robinson is another player who can play both out wide and through the middle and has been in great form since his loan move to West Brom in January.

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As for wide players, James McClean is a great option to the squad even if he is unlikely to be first choice under Kenny. As for Robbie Brady, the new Ireland boss has already said the Burnley man is someone he needs to get the best out of:

It's difficult to know why someone like Robbie Brady three years ago was probably our most creative player and now at times hasn't got into the 22.

So, how has that happened? I think my job is to try and unlock the potential of the whole team and find out the best way of doing it.

Sean Maguire, who has gone off the boil somewhat at Preston, can count himself unlucky to miss out. Troy Parrott and Adam Idah could also force their way in, but as of now seem more likely to remain with the U21s for these games.

 

The Squad In Full

GK: Darren Randolph, Mark Travers, Kieran O'Hara.

DEF: Seamus Coleman, Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, John Egan, Darragh Lenihan, Dara O'Shea, Enda Stevens, Ryan Manning.

MID: Jeff Hendrick, Alan Browne, Conor Hourihane, Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby, James McCarthy, Jack Byrne.

FWD: David McGoldrick, Shane Long, Aaron Connolly, Michael Obafemi, Callum Robinson, James McClean, Robbie Brady.

We have picked a 25-man squad, with 23 of those making each matchday squad. It is almost certain that Kenny will select at least 24 players in his final panel.

SEE ALSO: Yesterday's Performance From John Egan Would Have Had Stephen Kenny Purring

Gary Connaughton

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