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Five Things Learned From Stephen Kenny's Nations League Press Conference

Five Things Learned From Stephen Kenny's Nations League Press Conference
By PJ Browne

Stephen Kenny named a 27-man squad on Monday for next month's Nations League games. In the space of 10 days, Ireland will face Armenia, Ukraine twice, and Scotland.

Some notable names called up by Kenny are Swansea striker Michael Obafemi, who had been absent from recent squads; Blackpool winger CJ Hamilton who recently declared his interest in playing for Ireland; and the Udinese-bound Festy Ebosele.

These are five of the things we learned from today's press conference.

He's been impressed by Michael Obafemi

"It's the first time in his career that he's had a run of consecutive games," said Kenny.

"It's very hard for young players in the Premier League to get that because the standard is so high, and the squads are so big.

"You can see the improvement in his play. I've seen aspects of his play that I hadn't seen previously with Swansea. His hold-up play is really come on. He's shown great football intelligence aligned to the speed that he's got.

"The performances that I've seen recently are better than I've ever seen from him. His rate of improvement has been very high. He doesn't take penalties, and he's scored 12 goals in 16 games, so he's done very well.

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"I've had a few meetings with Michael. Listen, if everyone was the same, life would be dull. Michael is a charismatic guy. He's very proud to play for Ireland. He's excited about coming in. He's speaking about family coming to the games."

This was CJ Hamilton's first time being available for Ireland selection

"He was someone that I had little information on," said Kenny.

"He lived his first 14 years in Waterford, played in the Kennedy Cup for Waterford.

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"Then he went to England. He took the road less travelled, playing in the Conference in England for a few years, and up through, League Two, League One, and into the Championship. It's a very interesting journey.

"He's a very quick left winger, he plays on the right as well. He has a very good attitude and has made a very good contribution.

"He's has to contend with injuries over the last few years. He broke his metatarsal, and was out for the start of the season; it didn't heal properly, and he had to contend with that. The second half of the season, he made a good impact for Blackpool."

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Kenny sees Festy Ebosele as a winger, not a defender

12 November 2021; Festy Ebosele of Republic of Ireland in action against Emanuel Vignato of Italy during the UEFA European U21 Championship qualifying group A match between Republic of Ireland and Italy at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

"I really see him as a right winger," Kenny said about the 19-year-old who is set to join Udinese from Derby this summer.

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"He's someone who can play right wing-back. That was a factor in his selection as well. Seamus Coleman missed the game against Arsenal with a groin issue, so we have to make sure we're covered in that area.

"I don't really see him as a defender but a wing-back isn't necessarily a defensive position, depending on who you're playing.

"Not every game he's played has been perfect. He's still learning. His speed frightens defenders.

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"I see the pitch being big in these games. Against Ukraine and Scotland, no one is going to sit in, and the games are going to be really stretched. Even Armenia are not a team to sit in. They've got quite an attacking set-up with the way they play. I don't see any of the games with a low block."

Aaron Connolly is injured

"He doesn't feel right himself," Kenny said about Connolly, who spent the latter half of the season on loan at Middlesbrough from Brighton.

"He feels the heel [injury] that he's been playing with, and has been getting injections in towards the end of the season to play, it's caused him a lot of discomfort. He wasn't available for selection.

"He's had a loan period. When you talk to some coaches when you're going around the clubs in England, a lot of them say, 'Disregard a player's first loan'. That's a saying they have. They say, 'Most first loans are not always successful'. He played a lot of games for Middlesbrough, and that was a good experience for him. I'm sure if he has another loan move, he'll be all the better for it."

10 November 2020; Aaron Connolly and manager Stephen Kenny, left, during a Republic of Ireland training session at The Hive in London, England. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

He's treating these games like a tournament

"It's an 18 day camp," said Kenny.

"We're viewing it like a tournament. Sometimes, when you go to a tournament, the max a lot of teams will play is four games.

"We have to view it like that, and prepare accordingly. Some players finished four weeks ago, some three weeks ago, and some finished this week.

"Damien Doyle (the team's head of athletic performance) has sent out - even to some players on standby - GPS units, so the players have been able to log their stuff every day to make they're ready to come in, ready to go, and we've had a record of everything that everyone has done.

"It is a challenge for some players. Obviously, Nathan and Seamus just finished last week. We have to look at everyone on an individual basis to maximise their physical capacity."

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