Republic of Ireland Boss Stephen Kenny Has Selection Puzzle

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Spare a thought for new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny over the coming weeks.

Whilst starting any new job can be fraught with tiny little difficulties to overcome, Kenny’s somewhat noiseless accession to the Mick McCarthy vacated role of Irish senior team manager will almost immediately pose a very unique issue for the new Ireland manager.

Republic of Ireland Boss Stephen Kenny Facing Selection Dilemma

Euro 2020 Finals

The past fortnight has seen UEFA confirm the dates for the country’s postponed European Championship Qualifying Play-Off semi-final tie away to Slovakia, pencilled in for October 8th. Should Kenny’s side triumph in Bratislava, they will need to conquer a final hurdle in the shape of either Bosnia & Herzegovina or rivals Northern Ireland on November 12th before confirming their place for next summer’s deferred Euro 2020 finals.

Glass half-full, a hugely exciting position for any first-time national manager to be in. Glass half-empty, scuppering an expectant nation’s hopes of a major tournament appearance wouldn’t be the most endearing start.

If the stakes weren’t high enough for the former Dunfermline Athletic and Dundalk honcho, there may well be a further complication on the horizon.

Exciting Talents Emerging

A raft of exciting young Irish striking options has come to the fore over the past season. Passengers include Brighton & Hove Albion breakout star Aaron Connolly, Norwich City’s athletic teenage frontman Adam Idah, as well as Troy Parrott at Tottenham Hotspur and Michael Obafemi at Southampton.

All but Cork-born Idah made their senior international debut under the departed McCarthy and now look set to flourish under the oversight of Kenny. Each looks prone to having the potential to replace the likes of 30-somethings David McGoldrick and Shane Long and outstrip current squad regulars Sean Maguire, James Collins and Callum Robinson.

But a huge selection decision will have to be taken ahead of the October game with Slovakia and, should Ireland progress, the November play-off decider.

U21 History Makers?

Stephen Kenny did a pretty good job in his former role as Ireland’s U21 manager before his promotion in early April. So good in fact, that the youngsters, now managed by his former assistant Jim Crawford, are on the brink of qualifying for the European U21 Championship for the first time.

Crawford’s side sits at the summit of qualifying Group One, three points clear of Italy in second.

Last week, UEFA moved to rubberstamp the dates of their three remaining qualifying fixtures, including a crunch trip to the Azzurri and a home tie against still pitching third-place side Iceland.

The problem lies in the fact that both games coincide with the Irish senior side’s play-off deciders and Nations League campaign, with the Italian game scheduled for October 13th and the visit of Iceland down for November 12th, just 24 hours before a potential play-off decider for the seniors.

Each of the quartet listed above remains eligible to play for the U21s. Indeed, Parrott and Idah have been instrumental throughout their campaign to reach the finals in Hungary and Slovenia, sharing seven goals between them in as many matches, including a goal each in the 4-1 triumph over Sweden in November last time out.

Neither Connolly nor Obafemi featured in that particular Dublin victory but have been involved in the earlier qualifying matches in a group that also includes minnows Armenia and Luxembourg.

Dilemma At Hand

With a packed Premier League run-in ahead, Connolly and Obafemi will certainly be given further opportunities to add to their ever-increasing minutes at Brighton and Southampton, whilst Idah, who has only one Premier League start to his name, must be inline to become Daniel Farke’s last throw of the dice as Norwich try to survive what looks an imminent drop to the Championship.

It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that all three will be involved with their senior national setups in the autumn, as well as outside chances for other U21 stalwarts Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby who have cemented starting berths and continue to impress at Derby County and Millwall respectively.

The question that new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny must answer in late September will be a complicated one. Will the inclusion of these players strengthen the Republic’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2020, but if so, at what cost to their history-seeking U21 peers?

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