ROI Radar: A look back at Stephen Kenny’s first Ireland U21 lineup

ROI Radar: A look back at Stephen Kenny’s first Ireland U21 lineup

Stephen Kenny’s first ever Ireland team: Where are they now?

When the Irish men’s national team faces off against the Dutch in the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam tomorrow it will likely be Stephen Kenny’s last as manager.

His tenure has divided Irish football fans. Some praise his philosophy of playing out from the back progressive football, whilst others lament the fact that he simply has not gotten the results (a win rate of 28 percent and a fall of 24 places in the world rankings). 

What can’t be debated, however, is how Kenny has given debuts to 23 and used 52 different players since he took over in late 2020.

Regardless of what the legacy of his tenure may be, the next man at the helm of the national team will have a good squad of young talent to choose from.

Kenny was announced as manager in peculiar circumstances. In 2018 it was decided by the FAI that Mick McCarthy would first take over the senior team and Kenny the Under 21’s.

On March 24th, 2019, Kenny took charge of his first U21s game. It came in the form of a 3-0 victory Vs Luxembourg that signalled hope for the future and with many believing that he was the man to turn Ireland’s footballing fortunes around.

Let’s take a look at Kenny’s first-ever Ireland team and where they have progressed since then.

What was Stephen Kenny’s first Ireland under-21 team?

Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool)

At the time Kelleher was third choice keeper for Liverpool, behind Alisson and Adrian. That year he sat on the bench winning a medal in the process in the Champions League Final victory over Tottenham, becoming the 12th Irish man to do so.

Almost five years on, Kelleher remains at Liverpool being used sporadically as second choice keeper. He has also moved on to the Irish Senior team winning 10 caps with Gavin Bazunu (an unused sub in this Luxembourg game), Kenny’s preferred choice.

Lee O’Connor (Manchester United)

In 2019 Lee O’Connor was part of the Manchester United youth system. He would make the move from there to Celtic later that year where he would spend the next three seasons on loan.

The most fruitful of those was to League 2 club Tranmere Rovers, where after two season-long loans he eventually made a permanent transfer and he remains to this day. He has now made well over 100 appearances for Rovers. 

Dara O’Shea (Exeter City on loan from West Brom)

Dara O’Shea is arguably the biggest success story of Stephen Kenny’s first-ever Ireland squad. Now a Premier League regular at Burnley, the twenty-four-year-old has also represented his country 21 times and won the FAI Young Player of the Year in 2020.

Exeter City was his first real taste of senior men’s football. In the 2018-19 season, he played 27 times for them in League 2 which allowed him to make the step up to the Championship the following year with his parent club West Brom. He went on to make over 100 appearances for the Midlands Club before making the move north to Burnley.

Conor Masterson (Liverpool)

The Celbridge man was tipped for the stars when he was named on the bench for Liverpool’s Champions League quarter-final victory over Manchester City in 2018. Unfortunately for the talented ball-playing centre half, it simply hasn’t worked out the way it was envisioned.

He left Liverpool in 2019 without making an appearance. He joined QPR on a two-year deal making just 20 appearances. He dropped down to League One to play for Swindon Town but suffered a serious hamstring injury after just five games. Following that came loans to Cambridge and Gillingham, followed by relegation to League Two. He made the move permanent to Gillingham in 2023.

Darragh Leahy (Bohemians)

The 25-year-old Dubliner never made the move across the water after returning home to play for Bohs. In 2020 he made the short trip up to Dundalk where he continues to ply his trade. In total, he won ten under-21 caps for his country and has become a League of Ireland regular.

Conor Coventry (West Ham)

Coventry holds the peculiar title of being the most capped Ireland Under 21. Representing his country at the age group on 28 occasions, he was also captain for many of them.

He is still on the books of his boyhood club West Ham but has failed to make the breakthrough, with just one Premier League appearance to his name. Several moves between the second and third tiers of English football have given him some glimpses of first-team football with his list of clubs being Lincoln, Peterborough and Rotherham, and MK Dons. 

Jayson Molumby (Brighton)

Molumby has been one of the most successful graduates of Kenny’s first squad. Having been plagued by injury at Brighton, subsequent loan spells to Millwall, Preston, and West Brom eventually saw him find a new home in the Midlands.

A tenacious midfielder who has gone on to represent his country on 22 occasions, he has made himself a fan favourite both in the Aviva and the Hawthorns with his high energy and strong challenges all over the pitch.

Neil Farrugia (UCD)

A goal-scorer on the night, Farrugia has been close to making the breakthrough to the senior team having been on standby for the games against Greece and Gibraltar in May. He graduated from UCD with a biomedical degree in 2020 and subsequently made the move to Shamrock Rovers where he has been since, winning four league titles and an FAI cup.

His first few years at Rovers were blighted with injuries but the past two seasons have seen the strong, pacey, and technically gifted winger start to hit the levels expected of him in 2019.

Conor Ronan (FC DAC on loan from Wolves)

Rochdale-born Conor Ronan is a technically gifted attacking midfielder who in 2019 played on loan at DAC Dunajska Streda in Slovakia. It was one of six loans during his time at Wolves that was followed by stints at Blackpool, Zurich, and St Mirren before returning to his parent club, making just a single Premier League appearance.

On January 23 of this year, he joined MLS franchise Colorado Rapids on a four-year deal and was picked as their MVP.

Zack Elbouzedi (Waterford)        

The Dubliner became a key man for Kenny’s Under 21s, making 13 appearances. He made the move from Waterford to Lincoln City in 2020 but spent most of the season on loan to Bolton in League Two.

He now plys his trade in the Swedish Allsvenskan with AIK Stockholm. He has made over 50 appearances for the Swedish giants and remains solely focused on an Ireland call-up despite approaches from Libya, whom he is eligible to declare for.

Adam Idah (Norwich)

Another of the successes in this squad, Idah has gone on to make 20 senior caps for Ireland, scoring twice on the night against Luxembourg.

In 2019 he was a highly thought of prospect in the Norwich under 23s making his senior club debut aged just 18. In just his fourth senior club appearance he scored a hat-trick in an FA Cup tie against Preston. 


Jamie Lennon (St. Patrick’s Athletic) for Molumby (78 mins)

Lennon had already a full season of senior men’s football under his belt when he came on for the final quarter of this match. He has gone on to become a mainstay for St Patricks Athletic in the League of Ireland where he has made almost 150 appearances.

He has won two FAI cups with the Saints including a Man of the Match performance in front of 43,881 supporters in the 2023 final.

Dan Mandroiu (Bohemians) for Ronan (86 mins)

Having signed for Bohs from the Brighton academy Mandroiu went from hero to villain, making the move from Dalymount to Tallaght in 2021 after scoring two goals in the Dublin Derby.

At Rovers, he won two Leagues and a President’s Cup before making the switch to Lincoln where he has become a key player for the club.

Brandon Kavanagh (Shamrock Rovers) for Farrugia (89 mins) 

At just eighteen years of age, Kavanagh was the youngest player to see minutes in this game. In 2019 he was a highly rated technically gifted young player. Now aged 23 he has become an important cog for Derry City after several years trying to establish himself with the Hoops.

Michael O’Connor (Linfield) for Elbouzedi (89 mins)

The career of Michael O’Connor is a bit of a strange one. A very highly rated and physically young attacker at the time, he has gone on to become a bit of a journeyman at the age of just 25. He has had 12 different moves and currently plays in the Swedish fourth tier with Ytterhogdals IK

Aaron Drinan (Waterford on Loan) for Idah (89 mins)

The Corkman had a short cameo on the night but has carved out a good career for himself since. On loan to Waterford from Ipswich at the time, he now plays for Leyton Orient in League One where he has made over 80 first-team appearances. Following Waterford he moved to Goteborg for a season before a brief stint with Ayr United.