Stephen Kenny believes it will require ‘an extraordinary achievement’ for the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the European Championship finals next summer.
And if the team do survive the minefield of the play-offs, they will have come through ‘the hard way’ to reach their third successive finals.
‘You talk about qualifying for tournaments, but the last World Cup we were in was 2002. It’s a job to qualify, and we’ve got to do it the hard way now in going away to Slovakia and away to Bosnia or Northern Ireland,’ warned the Irish manager.
‘That hasn’t been done in many, many years, to beat significant nations back to back away. That would be an extraordinary achievement.
‘It’s a unique chance to qualify for the Euros in Dublin. We can’t waste it.’
Kenny will not use the Nations League games against Bulgaria and Finland in September for the experiment before the trip to Bratislava in October.
Rather, he will seek to impose his methods and tactics on his players right away, with a flat back four his preference. ‘It’s fair to say there’s too little time and too much at stake to experiment for Slovakia.’
‘I have an idea of how we’re going to play. There’s still places up for grabs, and I think the midfield area is very competitive.
‘Obviously we’ve got James McCarthy available for selection again, and that’s great news for Ireland. Harry Arter as well is available for selection.’
‘I won’t be picking a big squad, it won’t be overly big. Everyone who earns their place knows they have a chance of playing.’
Having confirmed his interest in Nigerian-born Rotherham winger Chiedozie Ogene, Kenny lamented the lack of home-grown internationals.
‘We haven’t seen players come through. We have Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady at 28 and nobody for nine years until Aaron Connolly, aside from the two Cork City players, Alan Browne and Sean Maguire.
‘We have a lot of players with potential, we have to work with them to realise that potential. We need to identify players earlier, and understand the talent they have and the way we want to play.
‘We have players like John Egan and Matt Doherty who are 28 now, and they’ve only played three competitive matches each. They’ve been good enough to play for a few years.’
According to Kenny, his appointment of international football director ‘gives me a seat at the table’ (of the FAI executive) ‘if I require it.’
‘Football needs to be at the centre of the decision-making process,…