Stephen Kenny is backing his Republic of Ireland team to turn on the style as they attempt to secure a first World Cup qualifying victory against Luxembourg free of their Covid-19 concerns.
The Republic’s autumn programme was thrown into turmoil by a series of positive tests in and around the camp, robbing new manager Kenny of key men, in particular strikers Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah, for their Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Slovakia.
However, they head into Saturday’s clash with Group A rivals Luxembourg in good spirits despite Wednesday evening’s 3-2 defeat in Serbia and looking for the first win of Kenny’s reign at the 10th attempt.
Kenny said: “I watched it back again and reiterated that the players were very good on the night and we left at least one point behind us, and we’re disappointed with that.
“The atmosphere and the morale is very, very good. It’s different from the other camps, probably because we haven’t had Covid influencing this camp.
“We have always lost players and it was in the infancy of Covid, in September and October, people weren’t sure of the impact of it and the impact of it on their families. There was that uncertainty and it decimated our camp.
“This feels different, morale is very good and relaxed. They played well the other night and were disappointed to lose. We want to put in that level of performance but win tomorrow, that has to be the objective.”
Connolly is unlikely to be involved after damaging a foot in Belgrade, but Kenny otherwise has a clean bill of health for perhaps his best chance yet to break his duck as an international manager.
He made a series of big calls in Serbia, replacing injured first-choice keeper Darren Randolph with 21-year-old rookie Mark Travers, giving Dara O’Shea the nod at the back ahead of Shane Duffy and fielding an inexperienced midfield trio of Jayson Molumby, Josh Cullen and Alan Browne.
Asked if he would freshen things once again, Kenny said: “They want to play, they all want to play. That’s the nature of an international player, everyone wants to play but they’re all supporting each other.
“Shane Duffy behind the scenes, even though he’s not playing, has been urging his team-mates on and been very selfless as regards the whole thing whereby your country comes first. That’s his mantra if you like. That’s the way he’s approached it, he’s really getting behind it.”
O’Shea admitted filling Duffy’s boots was a major challenge, but the prospect of helping his country reach the 2022 World Cup – he was only three years old the last time they did it – is one he is relishing.
The 22-year-old West Brom defender said: “Shane Duffy has been unbelievable for this country and he’s obviously somebody I’ve grown up and watched playing and admired, so when you get put in there, it’s a huge opportunity for me.
“Every kid grows up wanting to play for their country and watching the World Cup at home, it’s something that you aspire to get to.
“To be in with a chance and playing for my country in the World Cup qualifiers and helping the nation to get there is unreal.”