Opinion: Hungarian test will show how far Kenny’s Ireland have come since Luxembourg nightmare

Tue, Jun 08 2021

It may only be a friendly – and the last game of many players’ seasons – but Tuesday evening’s Hungarian test for the Boys in Green and manager Stephen Kenny is important.

The 4-1 defeat of Andorra was routine – in the end – but that win did expose a few issues that have continually plagued Kenny’s Ireland in the early stages of his tenure.

An inability to create chances and make sufficient use of possession looked to have Ireland staring down the barrel of a humiliating defeat at the foot of the Pyrenees.

And of course, that embarrassing reality came close to being fact when the Boys in Green fell a goal behind thanks to a Marc Vales header.

That header scored by Vales – a free header – emphasised much, that was, and still is, wrong with the Republic of Ireland.

For a long time, and I’m sure I don’t need to say this, Ireland never conceded sloppy goals from set-piece routines.

Under Giovanni Trappatoni, Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy, rarely did the Boys in Green ever look like conceding, and or threatened from free-kicks or corners.

But on that one occasion, against Andorra, in a friendly, we did – and that is a worry.

Maybe there was a sense of switching off, and it being the end of a long season for many of the players. But that was a poor goal to concede, nonetheless.

In fairness to Kenny and his Irish side, they have not looked especially vulnerable from set-pieces compared to other sides or management tickets.

However, if the likes of Andorra – who would draw 0-0 with Gibraltar in their next friendly – can expose that, it is only naturally to let the mind wander and think what a supposed bigger nation can do in that scenario.

Either way, the win was the most important thing from that friendly, and a brace for Troy Parrott is important, not only for Ireland, but also for the Tottenham teenager who endured a stop-start 2020/21 season.

The 19-year-old grabbed the game by the scruff its neck when it was needed most, potentially saving his manager’s job in the process with his two-goal burst on the hour mark.

A goal and an assist for former Cabinteely schoolboy Jason Knight was also a welcome sight, tying in nicely with his impressive season just gone by at Derby, despite the Rams flirting relegation to League One on the final day.

There was also a debut for former Dundalk midfielder Jamie McGrath – despite a cameo off the bench – it showed that there is hope for players who have taken the path less travelled that he has.

That is of course combining third-level education with senior League of Ireland football, an avenue that more players are looking at as a viable alternative to making the move over to the UK from 16-18.

While there are positives starting to emerge from this international window for the Boys in Green you get the sense that a strong showing – and dare I say, a result – is important in Budapest on Tuesday night.

For the most part, the performances have been there for the Boys in Green under Kenny, but the next step of his tenure must be getting results.

Perhaps playing in front of a full stadium away from home will provide a further challenge, but that may not be a bad thing either – especially with the prospect of crowds returning ahead of the September international window.

Yes, Tuesday evening may be ‘just a friendly’, but should a positive performance and result be found, it could lay the platform for something to bigger to come down the tracks.

Then again, progress is the big thing here. Should Kenny be willing to abandon his principles and pick a side laden with experience only and opt for a more defence minded shape to get a win? Probably not.

All in all, another progressive performance will undoubtedly be the point of progress that will be looked at this evening.

Can we make more use of the ball in possession? And can we create and covert chances versus a side who are heading to the Euros?

If we can do that, history may look back at this international window kindly considering the raft of withdrawals and player unavailability that threatened to plunge the training camp into chaos early on.

But the next step needs to be getting wins on the board, and scoring. If that comes tonight, it may finally kickstart the Kenny reign in the manner we all hoped it would have done so following his appointment 14 months ago. Is that not too much to ask for?

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