It’s an old cliché, defenses win titles.
While the rewards on offer in international football vary, the sentiment remains valid. Ireland’s budding talent in defense looks set to lay the foundations for Stephen Kenny’s mission to reach Euro 2024, with qualifying kicking off next March.
It’s been a great summer for some of the young Irish defensive stars. In July, Lexlip’s native Nathan Collins became the most expensive Irish footballer, with Wolves paying Burnley €24 million for the 21-year-old. Since then, the centre-back has started all seven of the Premier League’s games and kept three clean sheets, although his daunting challenge against Jack Grealish on Saturday – and the resulting red card – acted as a final effect on his huge esteem.
“Nathan is taking everything his way,” said Ireland’s President Kenny.
“You have a feeling that he will only get better. His attitude is good, he has good values and high levels of professionalism.”
This expulsion against Manchester City will not diminish Kenny’s faith in Collins, as the former Cherry Orchard man looks set to definitely start against Scotland on Saturday.
Ireland’s top seed Gavin Pazono also had a busy summer swapping Manchester City for Southampton in a €18.5m move.
“He’s already an international goalkeeper, which is very rare for his age,” Saints coach Ralph Hasenhuttl said upon signing Pazono. The former Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper has played every minute this season, including a stellar performance in Southampton’s latest win over Chelsea.
West Brom’s Dara O’Shea also enjoyed a good start to the new campaign, playing every available minute while captaining the championship team three times.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, to be captain. It’s special,” said the former St Kevin’s Boys centre-back.
The 23-year-old completed his first full 90 minutes for Ireland in the June draw with Ukraine and curled in the net against Norwich’s Andrew Umubamidelli on Saturday.
Fellow centre-back Aomopamidel is flying in the tournament as well, starting every game so far with Norwich. The 20-year-old returned from a back injury this summer, which kept him on the sidelines in the second half of last season. It’s since been back and has been inspired by the Canaries.
Omubamidele was named to Kenya’s 24-man squad last week, and he is hoping to make his first appearance in Ireland since November this month.
“It was a really exceptional start to his international career,” said Leixlip’s Kenny.
“We knew what we were getting, and he really excelled. The injury set him back but he did a good job and he has been for Norwich at all this season.”
Pazono is the undisputed main Irish goalkeeper at the moment, while Kenny has three talented young defenders at his disposal, who have already played plenty of minutes in the league this season.
The form of Collins, O’Shea and Utopamidel contrasts sharply with experienced international defenders such as Shane Duffy, Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty, and while the trio were named in Kenny’s squad last week, club conditions could be a concern for them. Ireland’s president.
Duffy, who has 55 caps, is an integral part of Ireland’s defense and has made 21 of Kenya’s 26 appearances so far.
Derriman joined Fulham on loan from Brighton last month, hoping for regular playing time, but has played just two minutes of the Premier League in his first seven games.
Coleman’s last international action came in the June defeat to Armenia, where he sustained a thigh injury that required surgery.
The Donegal native subsequently missed all of Everton’s pre-season games and has yet to appear in the Premier League this season, although the Ireland captain completed 90 minutes in the Toffees’ EFL Cup second round win against Fleetwood Town last month.
Coleman’s teammate, right-back Matt Doherty has had a disappointing start to the season, playing just eight minutes in his first nine games for Tottenham Hotspur. Dublin has been in rehab in recent months after a knee injury in April.
“Matt has had a serious injury and is struggling a bit to get back into the player I knew last season,” Tottenham coach Antonio Conte said last week.
In announcing his squad, Kenny played down suggestions the young defenders would replace their more experienced teammates, as they leave Ireland for Scotland on Saturday before hosting Armenia the following Tuesday.
While it is important to keep his top players involved, there is no denying the presence of the Gulf in form in recent weeks.
Kenny revealed he wouldn’t play Jason Knight at right-back, so due to the lack of depth in that area, he might show my turn if he’s a good fit.
Sheffield United captain John Egan is sure to start as well and play every available minute this season.
There is no denying that Collins, O’Shea and Umubamidele have played themselves in competition with the club’s exploits.
Whoever is at his level, he will play,” Kenny said. “Shane, Seamus, and Matt all have contributions to make.”
For this window at least, some contributions could be made off the bench, with Kenny facing some tough decisions in defence.