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Stephen Kenny ready to be positive as Ireland eye ‘tremendous opportunity’

Republic of Ireland v Finland – UEFA Nations League – Group 4 – League B – Aviva Stadium
(Image credit: Niall Carson)

Stephen Kenny feels there is little room for caution as the Republic of Ireland face Slovakia in their long-awaited Euro 2020 play-off semi-final this week.

Ireland head to Bratislava on Thursday bidding to claim a place in one of four finals offering spots at next summer’s rearranged pan-European tournament.

With Northern Ireland potentially lying in wait in that final, and then the tournament itself at which Dublin is one of the host cities, there are plenty of incentives.

Yet Ireland have not won a major competitive match away for almost three years – a 1-0 victory over minnows Gibraltar in 2019 aside – and manager Kenny admits the challenge is a tough one.

Kenny said: “It’s a tough game. We have got to go out to Slovakia. They have good home form and are a very consistent and experienced team, but the other side of it is it’s a tremendous opportunity for us.

“We know the opportunity that does exist and the possibility of the European Championship in Ireland is unique, really. It’s never happened before and may never happen again.

“So there’s that kind of motivation to lift the country. It would be an incredible experience for the whole country.

Kenny says his side are unlikely to be cautious

Kenny says his side are unlikely to be cautious (Niall Carson/PA)

“But we’re a long way away from that because we’ve got a tough game in Slovakia and that’s only a semi-final.

“We’ve got to do something extraordinary and win away from home again, and we’re planning with everything we have to try to achieve that.

“We’ll approach the game in a positive frame of mind. We’re unlikely to be cautious, I would say.”

Not since beating Wales in a World Cup qualifier in November 2017 have Ireland claimed a significant competitive away win.

That came under Martin O’Neill and since then Mick McCarthy has had a spell in charge.

Ireland’s victory in Wales three years ago was their last significant away win

Ireland’s victory in Wales three years ago was their last significant away win (Nigel French/PA)

Kenny, who took over in April this year, is not interested in the reasons behind this poor record, but is just focused on putting it right.

He said: “We can’t hide from that fact, and there must be a reason. It is significant we haven’t won many away games against significant nations in many years.

“But it’s not a concern for me, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can only approach the game itself on its merits.

“We have got to change that and try to address that, and try and get that victory. We have got to be positive in our approach, and not reactive.”

Kenny will be without captain Seamus Coleman, who limped out of Everton’s 4-2 win over Brighton on Saturday with a hamstring injury.

Everton’s Seamus Coleman looks unlikely to feature for Ireland in Slovakia

Everton’s Seamus Coleman is out for Ireland in Slovakia (Alex Livesey/PA)

Coleman withdrew from the squad on Sunday afternoon after scans revealed the extent of the problem, with Cyrus Christie, on loan at Nottingham Forest from Fulham, replacing him.

Kenny said: “He’s (Coleman) obviously been in brilliant form in the last few weeks particularly and was playing very, very well (on Saturday). He was having an exceptional game.

“There’s nothing we can do about that and we just have to adapt and get ready for Slovakia and make sure we’re right.”

Kenny has also called up Burnley centre-back Kevin Long after losing Blackburn’s Darragh Lenihan to a knee injury, while Forest midfielder Harry Arter is a doubt with a thigh problem. There are also question marks over a series of unnamed players.

Kenny was also hoping the 11 members of his 25-man squad that were due to play on Sunday came through unscathed.

He said: “Hopefully we get good news in relation to a lot of the players and they come in ready to go.”