Nations League: Stephen Kenny defends Republic of Ireland's record

Republic boss Stephen Kenny
Kenny’s side are aiming to stretch their unbeaten run to nine games
Nations League: Armenia v Republic of Ireland
Venue: Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium, Yerevan Date: Saturday, 4 June Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary, match report & reaction on the BBC Sport website

Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has defended his side’s record in the Nations League as they attempt to win their first game in the competition.

The Republic have drawn five and lost five of their 10 Nations League games.

The Irish aim to secure an elusive first win in the competition when they face Armenia in Yerevan on Saturday.

But Kenny believes it is “completely unfair” to judge the previous campaign given the various Covid-19 disruptions that stunted his side’s progress.

“We had a situation where after coming back from a Euro play-off, we had to play Wales,” said Kenny.

“We had a call late at night to say that five of the starting XI couldn’t play because they were close contacts and two of the players on the plane couldn’t play.

“We were one of the few countries at the time that were adopting those rules on close contacts – two metres – so for two [international] windows we really had minus 10 players.

“In difficult circumstances, all of the games were either drawn or lost by a goal. The players acquitted themselves well at the time considering the circumstances. It’s not fair to assess that campaign at all, completely unfair.”

While the Republic have scored just two goals in 10 Nations League outings dating back to the 2018-19 campaign when Martin O’Neill was in charge, they have made steady progress under Kenny and head into Saturday’s game on the back of an eight-match unbeaten run.

“I know people want to criticise that period and people really went after us in that period, but I think we have shown over the last year that the players have played brilliantly,” added Dubliner Kenny, who has a fully fit squad for Saturday’s game.

“The Irish public really identify with this team now. It’s a new style of play, it’s a vibrant style of play, the players have been terrific.”

‘Pace not the only component’

Udinese-bound Festy Ebosele has been handed a maiden call-up after impressing for Derby County
Udinese-bound Festy Ebosele has been handed a maiden call-up after impressing for Derby County

Earlier this week, Kenny insisted pace alone will not pave the way to Nations League success.

Wingers Festy Ebosele and CJ Hamilton have been called up for the first time while Michael Obafemi earned a long-awaited recall having won his only cap in November 2018.

All three will add speed to the Irish attack, but Kenny is in no rush to introduce them straight away.

“Pace is an important component but it’s not the only component,” he said.

“I think it would be naive to suggest that, bringing players in who have not been capped before and just put them out and expect the opposition not to be able to live with it.”

Udinese-bound Ebosele impressed during Derby’s challenging Championship campaign, while Hamilton enhanced his reputation as Blackpool cemented their place in the same division having been promoted from League One last year.

Of the three, it is perhaps Obafemi, handed a senior Ireland debut as an 18-year-old substitute in Denmark in November 2018 by then boss Martin O’Neill, who has made the most notable impact.

The forward left Premier League side Southampton, where his opportunities had been limited, for Championship Swansea last summer and gradually warmed to his task, scoring 11 goals in his last 19 games of the season to catch Kenny’s eye.

“You have to have the right balance in your team, with creativity, the physical attributes that you need, and speed,” he added.

“We do think it’s an important attribute, but it’s only one attribute.”

The Republic will face Armenia in the searing Yerevan heat with temperatures forecasted to top 30C on Saturday.

It is the start of a gruelling two-week period for the Republic, who will play four games in 10 days, with home and away games against Ukraine either side of Scotland’s visit to the Aviva Stadium on 11 June.

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