Aaron Connolly has insisted new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny era needs to be judged over an extended period of time, as he insisted that Thursday’s Euro qualifier in Slovakia is merely the start of a long journey in charge of the national team.
Speaking exclusively to TEAMtalk at an EA Sports event to promote the new FIFA 21 game, the Brighton striker suggested the criticism that flowed Kenny’s way from former players and pundits after he failed to win either of his first two games as Ireland manager last month was unjustified.
He also backed the manager he worked with in the Ireland under-21 set-up to make his mark as senior boss, but admitted a period of evolution will be required before his philosophy starts to produce results.
“Stephen is trying to get us to play in a different way and when a manager comes in with a new philosophy, it’s not realistic to expect it all to be perfect from day one,” said Connolly, who was picked to start by Kenny in UEFA Nations League games against Bulgaria and Finland last month.
“We only had a few days of training before the Bulgaria game, but it was clear that we were getting the ball down and trying to ball a bit more. That’s what the manager wants from us.
“International football is tough for players and maybe even more so for managers. They don’t get much time with players and every game tends to be important, but we all know what Stephen Kenny is about and the players love working with him.
“We could easily have won the game in Bulgaria and the same is true of the Finland match, but it didn’t quite go our way. What we could see was the change of approach and we were trying to pass the ball a lot more. There were some good signs there, but it takes time to change a team.
“It is a process, but we appreciate the need to be right at it this week because we will only get one chance in this play-off against Slovakia. Since I joined up with the squad, it feels like we are on it and the whole team is ready to go.”
Connolly is part of an exciting batch of talent emerging through the Ireland ranks, with Kenny overseeing their development as Ireland under-21 boss over the last couple of years.
The likes of Jayson Molumby, Troy Parrott and Adam Idah may not be ready to make the leap into senior international football right away, but Connolly is excited about the future under Kenny’s leadership.
Future is bright for Irish football
“There are some great players coming through in the Ireland set-up now and it’s not down to luck,” he continued. “There is a great set-up with the underage squads and when you look the players we had at the under-21 Toulon Tournament that Stephen was in charge of last year, it was a group that looked really exciting.
“Myself, Jayson, Adam Idah and Troy Parrott have all had call-ups to the senior squad since then and more will follow because we have some great young players in that group.
“The coaching with the under-21s is great and the way Stephen played football suited us. We all enjoyed working under him and I’m sure it will be the same with the senior side now. We have good times ahead.”
While the future is bright for Ireland, the present offers up real hope of progress to next summer’s European Championship finals and Connolly is relishing the prospect.
“I’d love to play in a major tournament for Ireland,” he added. “I watched Euro 2016 on TV and at the time, the idea of playing for Ireland seemed like a dream, but it’s closer now.
“Evertone in this squads is desperate to be a part of the finals next summer. To have a chance to be involved in a tournament like that and maybe create a similar moment, it would be special. Hopefully we give ourselves a chance to do that on Thursday.
“Slovakia are a good team. They are in the play-offs for a reason, but we have to believe in ourselves and appreciate that we are also a good team being led by a top manager, so let’s go out there and believe in ourselves.”
FIFA 21 is available this Friday, October 9 for PlayStation®4, Xbox One, PC via Origin™ and Steam plus Nintendo Switch.