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After A Horrific Start, We Now Have A Clear Vision Of What Stephen Kenny Wants Ireland To Be

After A Horrific Start, We Now Have A Clear Vision Of What Stephen Kenny Wants Ireland To Be
By Gary Connaughton Updated

Gary Connaughton reporting from the Aviva Stadium

Coming away from an Ireland match genuinely entertained by what had unfolded on the pitch remains a relatively novel experience. It wasn't something that happened all that often in recent years, even if the results were achieved.

Things have changed.

The draw against Belgium was a fantastic spectacle, with both sides playing an attractive brand of football. While the visitors were understrength, it was nonetheless very encouraging to see that Ireland were the team that looked the more dangerous in attack.

On the surface of it, Ireland's goals may not suggest that a shift has taken place. After all, crosses into the penalty area have been the weapon of choice for Irish teams down through the years.

However, everything that leads them up to this point has changed rather dramatically.

Ireland now look incredibly comfortable in possession. The way they passed around a very well organised Belgian press was genuinely impressive, on very few occasions being forced to play the ball longer.

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A few players are particularly important in this regard. John Egan's ability to step out of the defence and into midfield brings a whole new dimension to the attack, while Josh Cullen and Jeff Hendrick have become increasingly brave in seeking possession with their backs to the opposition goal. Hendrick was often accused of shirking the responsibility of taking control of the ball in years gone by, but that certainly hasn't been the case in the last number of matches under Kenny.

Caoimhín Kelleher also slots perfectly into that philosophy, with his ability on the ball stronger than even Gavin Bazunu's.

After toying with various formations early in his tenure, Kenny has very much landed on the right system for this team. Matt Doherty and James McClean look perfectly suited to their duties in that wingback role, although neither quite had the attacking influence on this game that they would have hoped for.

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From goal kicks, that pair push right up the pitch despite the fact that Ireland usually play the ball short. It is a small, yet significant, example of the manager's faith in the players at the back having the ability to play out, removing the extra safety blanket of those two other defenders should one of them lose the ball. This also allows the team to launch attacks quickly.

It is no coincidence that the team's fairly rapid progression over the last number of months coincided with the arrival of Chiedozie Ogbene.

He has been absolutely incredible for Ireland and already looks like their most important attacker. His performance today was remarkable, having the end product to go along with the burst of pace that causes such problems for defender's. A goal and an assist is certainly not a bad day's work, with the cheers of the supporters as his name was read out for the man-of-the-match award over the Aviva Stadium tannoy telling you all you need to know about how quickly he has become a favourite for Ireland fans.

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This team has a real identity and way of playing, something that couldn't always be said of Irish sides in the past. Stephen Kenny's vision is starting to take shape.

Tuesday's game against Lithuania is one that Ireland will be expecting to win. They will also want to impose themselves on the contest, something they should be able to do if they can replicate the Belgium performance.

It is certainly an exciting time to follow this team.

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SEE ALSO: Ireland Player Ratings As Kenny's Side Rescue Deserved Belgium Draw

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