Stephen Kenny challenges his players to do something special in Slovakia

Stephen Kenny has challenged the Republic of Ireland to target two “extraordinary” results to win a place at the rescheduled Euro 2020 finals.

Ireland head for Slovakia next Thursday evening for a one-off semi-final showdown which will pitch the winners into battle with either Bosnia & Herzegovina or Northern Ireland with a golden ticket at stake.

The Republic made it to the finals of the tournament in both 2012 and 2016, but new manager Kenny admits it would be a significant achievement to maintain that run.

He said: “The possibility of getting to the European Championships is unique, in Ireland in particular. It would be a unique occasion and they really want that.

“They know that they will have to have an extraordinary sequence of results. We need two big away wins in order for that to happen, the first one against Slovakia.

“I have been very impressed with Slovakia in the qualifying campaign, so we are going to have to do really, really well over there to get a result.

“As a nation, we’ve not won an away game against a significant nation in quite a few years. It’s something we have to do, something extraordinary, and rally around each other to produce a big performance in Slovakia.”

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Stephen Kenny replaced Mick McCarthy (pictured) as Republic of Ireland manager this summer (Niall Carson/PA)</figcaption>
Stephen Kenny replaced Mick McCarthy (pictured) as Republic of Ireland manager this summer (Niall Carson/PA)

Kenny has named a 25-man party for the game in Bratislava, which is followed by Nations League fixtures against Wales in Dublin and Finland in Helsinki.

The squad will meet up on Sunday – although 11 players are in action for their clubs that day and will therefore not be able to train fully on Monday, meaning they will have only one session to prepare together before flying to Slovakia.

It will be the second time they have come together since Kenny replaced Mick McCarthy at the helm with the new manager keen to stamp his own mark on the team after a 1-1 Nations League draw in Bulgaria and a 1-0 home defeat by the Finns earlier this month.

He made several big calls for those games, the most notable of which was to leave McCarthy’s skipper Seamus Coleman on the bench as Tottenham new boy Matt Doherty got the nod at right-back, although Kenny insists he considers it a luxury to have such a decision to make.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Seamus Coleman lost his Republic of Ireland place to Matt Doherty last month (Steven Paston/PA)</figcaption>
Seamus Coleman lost his Republic of Ireland place to Matt Doherty last month (Steven Paston/PA)

He said: “We will do what we feel is right for the game itself. Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman are huge assets, and that’s what we want. What anyone else thinks is irrelevant, that’s how I view it.

“Seamus has been a great captain for Ireland and a great player and has started the season well; Matt finished the season brilliantly with Wolves, scored quite a number of goals.

“In the last games for us, he was in pre-season mode and I thought his best game for Tottenham was last weekend, he really looked back to himself. That bodes well.”

Kenny will hope his players are significantly sharper than they were earlier this month with the likes of Celtic defender Shane Duffy and Newcastle midfielder Jeff Hendrick in particular having got game-time under their belts after lengthy lay-offs.

In addition, midfielder Jack Byrne has been handed a return to the international stage for the triple-header having impressed in Shamrock Rovers’ Europa League outing against Italian giants AC Milan.

Kenny said: “He is a very, very good player. He is different. He has a range of passes which is very interesting and very effective. He has good vision and is a talented midfielder player.”