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29 Jun 2022

'The players have played brilliantly' - Stephen Kenny hails team ahead of Nations League opener

'The players have played brilliantly' - Stephen Kenny hails team ahead of Nations League opener

Stephen Kenny has launched a passionate defence of the Republic of Ireland’s Nations League record as they attempt to win their first game in the competition at the 11th attempt.

Stephen Kenny has launched a passionate defence of the Republic of Ireland’s Nations League record as they attempt to win their first game in the competition at the 11th attempt.

Kenny has challenged his players to win their League B1 group to clinch second-seed status for October’s Euro 2024 qualifying draw, but he has insisted it would be harsh to judge his only previous campaign – Martin O’Neill was in charge for the first – as a result of the Covid-19 crisis which enveloped it.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference at the Republican Stadium, he said: “We had a situation where after coming back from a Euro play-off, we had to play Wales. 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 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.”

In all, Ireland have drawn five and lost five of the 10 Nations League games they have played to date, scoring only two goals in the process.

However, they have made steady progress in the last year and head into the Armenia game on the back of an eight-match unbeaten run.

Kenny added: “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.

“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.”

Kenny will have a full squad of players from which to choose in Yerevan, with goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu having shaken off a back injury.

The Irish team will have to deal with soaring temperatures in Eastern Europe, with forecasts suggesting the mercury could hit 36C during the game.

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