On Saturday, the FAI announced that Mick McCarthy would be stepping aside from his role as Irish manager to allow Stephen Kenny to come in and take charge of the Boys in Green.
The succession plan had been in the works since the back end of 2018 and the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic essentially quickened the process, with Kenny stepping into the role.
The decision no doubt adds another level of intrigue to Ireland’s European Championship playoff against Slovakia whenever it does occur, as Kenny looks to have a similar impact with the senior team as he had with the U21s.
It’s unlikely that Kenny comes in and completely revamps the squad, he’ll want experience, especially for the playoff, but he’s sure to introduce some new faces to the Irish squad.
Here we take a look at five players who are ready to make the step up to the senior side under Stephen Kenny. As a rule we haven’t included anyone who has been capped at senior level already.
An obvious choice here, Jayson Molumby has proven throughout his loan move at Millwall this season that he is more than capable of stepping up to the Irish senior squad.
He never appeared to be near the squad under McCarthy, but he is clearly a player Kenny admires having handed him the captaincy at U21 level, with Molumby repaying his faith tenfold with his performances.
The 20-year-old managed 29 league appearances with the Lions before the suspension of the season, becoming a key player in the Millwall midfield with his energetic and tenacious style of play.
Molumby would undoubtedly add something different to the Irish midfield under Kenny and will only continue to improve the more experience he gets in senior football, whether that be with Millwall or parent club Brighton.
Almost a shoo-in for Kenny’s first squad.
Perhaps not as close to being a starter as Molumby, but Dara O’Shea has truly had a breakout year or so for both the Irish U21s and his club West Brom.
A traditional no-nonsense centre-back, O’Shea has primarily operated and excelled as a right-back since breaking into the West Brom squad helping their promotion push in the Championship.
Alongside Conor Masterson he built-up a very steady partnership at the heart of the Irish U21 defence and his versatility and ability to operate more than one position across the back four makes him a candidate to step up to Kenny’s squad.
A player who has crucially shown progression at every turn so far in his career, O’Shea could certainly act, initially at least, as solid cover in the Irish defence.
Jason Knight is another player who has had an excellent season at Championship level, making 22 league appearances for Phillip Cocu’s Derby County and scoring four goals.
The Rams’ season of transition has allowed the 19-year-old plenty of first team opportunities and mainly operating in the centre of the midfield he has arguably been one of their standout performers.
Knight started Ireland’s last two games at U21 level, both of which resulted in victories and had been one of the younger players name checked by Mick McCarthy towards the back end of his reign.
The former Cabinteely man had grown into a solid role under Kenny and, like O’Shea, his ability to play a number of positions should stand him in good stead for future squads.
Adam Idah showed the world his quality in January when, on his just his second competitive start, he banged in an impressive hat-trick for Norwich in their FA Cup victory over Preston.
He started against Manchester United at Old Trafford the next game however he has largely been reduced to a bit part role throughout the season at Carrow Road.
The 19-year-old though has always impressed when he’s featured and under Kenny at U21 level he has found the net five times, becoming the focal point of the Irish attack.
There’s no doubt that Idah needs a little more experience under his belt before becoming a regular in the senior setup but in a side that has struggled to score goals he could act as an option for Kenny as early as later this year.
A striker with a huge future in the game.
Given Stephen Kenny’s propensity for a traditional number ten, Blackpool’s on-loan Wolves midfielder Connor Ronan could find himself given an opportunity at senior level.
Ronan has bags of experience in senior football having played a year and a half in the Slovakian top-flight and he had just been beginning to show the Bloomfield Road faithful exactly what he is capable of in League One before the suspension of the season.
The 22-year-old has proven to be a favourite of Kenny’s when he’s been fit and the impact he made off the bench in their win against Sweden was hugely impressive.
If Kenny does continue to go with a number ten when he takes over as senior manager, then expect Ronan to be one of the players largely considered for the role.
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