Stephen Kenny admits he has not had time to reflect upon the latest landmark in his career as he prepares to send the Republic of Ireland into battle for the first time.
The former Under-21s boss has replaced Mick McCarthy in charge of the senior side since Ireland’s last game, a 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifier draw with Denmark, and it is he who will attempt to guide them to the finals in next month’s play-off against Slovakia.
Kenny’s appointment prompted raised eyebrows in some quarters with the 48-year-old former Longford Town, Bohemians, Derry City, Dunfermline, Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk manager having worked largely in the League of Ireland before his elevation to the international set-up.
MD-1 training later this evening 👌
Plenty of action in yesterday's training before we left for Bulgaria 👇
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) September 2, 2020
Asked if Thursday night’s opening Nations League fixture in Bulgaria, the first of his reign, would be the biggest of his career to date, he said: “If I took time and reflected on that, thought about it in that way, there is no doubt that it is.
“But I haven’t had that period of introspection. I have been focused on the game itself and that’s how I view it.
“We are just focusing on the game itself, how we are going to play, the challenge of playing in an empty stadium.
“But I am not looking at it from my own point of view. I don’t have time for that, we just have to get ready to try and prepare the team and try to perform well.”
Kenny has signalled his intention to play a more progressive brand of football than that which has characterised Ireland’s style of play in recent years, and he is not concerned that his plan might increase expectation.
- September 3 - Bulgaria (a)
- September 6 - Finland (h)
He said: “I don’t mind that, that’s okay. I’m comfortable with that.”
If Kenny’s immediate focus is Nations League points, he knows the game in Sofia and Finland’s trip to Dublin three days later represent priceless preparation for the trip to Slovakia.
He said: “The first thing is that the Nations League potentially gives you a World Cup play-off, a chance to be promoted to Group A, so with that in mind, you’ve got to win the group.
“It’s not easy. First of all, we want to win the game if we could. That’s important for us. And there is also the bigger picture of the Slovakia game in October with a view to that as well.
“I can say to you that each game is in isolation and we’ll look at that when it comes – and there is an element of truth in that – but you have to see the wider view. We are building towards that as well.”
For Newcastle midfielder Jeff Hendrick, any involvement in Bulgaria would be his first competitive action since March 7, with lockdown and his contractual situation at former club Burnley prompting his longest ever spell on the sidelines.
Asked how difficult that was, he said: “Of course, it was different. When the lockdown came in, there was nothing to watch, so it was just a weird time.
“I think everyone turned to box sets or whatever they could and then once the football got back and I wasn’t finishing the league off, it was hard to watch.
“The games were on every day, it was exciting – obviously not as exciting as it would be with the fans – but there were games and as a player, you always want to play, so it was different.
“It was hard, but thankfully it sort of flew by and thankfully I was able to get myself sorted and get back into training and into the routine.”