Ireland Nations League Preview

David Prendeville

With the league season now over, and the World Cup taking place in Winter this year, the summer is looking like a fairly barren period in which to get a soccer fix. We can, however, look forward to Ireland’s upcoming Nations League games. Beggars can’t be choosers.

In sincerity, watching the Irish team isn’t the chore it had been in the last number of years and that is testament to the job Stephen Kenny has done in quietly revolutionising our football style and the player pool. Through this, he has managed to create a team that at the very least are likeable, with plenty of exciting young talents that give fans hope for the future.

With the ink drying on his freshly signed contract, the next step for Kenny will be to try and to forge a team that’s as successful as it is endearing. We still failed to qualify or secure a play-off spot for Qatar, but Kenny understandably and deservedly gets a free pass for his first full campaign. Mick McCarthy left behind him a dour, tired, stale squad, bereft of all belief and imagination. Kenny has done a fine job in making players and fans believe once more, but this next campaign must also bring with it tangible success to go along with the new found charm.

The Nations League represents Kenny’s last chance for tinkering and experimentation before the business-end of getting stuck into the qualifying campaign. Ireland’s first game in the Nations League takes place on Saturday the 4th of June in Armenia. Ireland are then set to host Ukraine on June 8th. They travel to Scotland on June 11th. They are then scheduled to play their away game against Ukraine, which will take place in Lodz in Poland, on June 14th.

Over the summer months Kenny and Irish fans will also be keeping a keen eye on the transfer market to see if any of Kenny’s kids can make a step-up and secure moves. One major caveat in the recent optimism surrounding the team is the fact that so many of the youngsters we’re pinning our hopes on are playing at quite a low level. Hopefully that might change for some over the summer.

The star of Kenny’s recent games has unquestionably been Chiedozie Ogbene and Kenny will be hoping he can carry that form into the Nations League and beyond. It could be an interesting summer for the former Cork City man with some suggesting a team higher up the food chain may come in for the Rotherham man, despite them recently securing promotion from League One into the Championship.

Gavin Bazunu, who has spent the last couple of seasons at Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City should also have an interesting summer. Perhaps he could go out on loan to a team in the Premier League or maybe he may even figure in Pep Guardiola’s plans as understudy to Ederson. Given his impressive performances for Portsmouth and Ireland, and given the struggles of Zack Steffen at City it would be no surprise to see him usurp Steffen as City’s number two.

Troy Parrott is another who could have a key summer ahead of him. Sadly it’s hard to imagine him realistically being part of Antonio Conte’s plans at Spurs next year. Perhaps another loan move or permanent move is on the cards for the Dubliner. A loan move to a decent Championship club would represent progress for Parrott, who spent last season on loan at MK Dons. Parrott racked up respectable numbers at Dons and scored for them in the second leg of their play-off semi final, before their elimination. And what now for Parrott’s Spurs teammate Matt Doherty? He seemed on his way out of the club in January but went on to have an excellent second half to the season, albeit one cut short through an injury sustained in the closing weeks. With Spurs playing Champions League football next season, let’s hope he figures in Antonio Conte’s plans.