We can’t judge Stephen Kenny yet and the lack of a crowd isn’t helping Ireland

We saw the impact of the absence of fans on what was a horribly flat occasion at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

ootball without spectators was a bizarre experience for Premier League clubs when the games resumed in June and it is even more strange at international level.

I remember my nights playing for Ireland at the old Lansdowne Road and the crowd were as big a part of the story as the players and the brilliance of our inspirational manager Jack Charlton.

The national anthem was always an inspiring moment and the roar that used to go up at moments when the teams were on a bit of a downer was so important to lift us if things were not going our way.

Well, what we saw in Stephen Kenny’s first home game as Ireland manager last night was an example of why fans are so crucial to giving this great game of ours a soul.

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Callum Robinson in action against Finland’s Tim Sparv. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Callum Robinson in action against Finland’s Tim Sparv. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

I know we need to get matches on and having fans in stands might not be realistic as we continue to fight the menace that is this Covid-19 virus.

But certain teams will struggle to play in front of empty stands and Ireland will be one of them.

I’ve got a smirk on my face here as I suggest the atmosphere at Manchester City’s stadium has barely been affected by the absence of spectators as that place is comparable to a library at the best of times.

Yet Anfield without fans for Liverpool home games and the Aviva without Ireland fans will never feel right and I honestly believe that played a big part in a low-key UEFA Nations League game.

Ireland’s 12th man was sadly missing and you could see that in the first half, as Kenny’s attack-minded selection struggled to click into gear and create clear-cut chances.

They did show a little more intent after Finland took the lead and Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson could and should have done better with the chances that came their way, but it wasn’t to be for Kenny on a big night for him.

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Shane Duffy believes he is up to the challenge at international level (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

PA

Shane Duffy believes he is up to the challenge at international level (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

We can’t judge the new manager yet and the upcoming Euro 2020 play-off match against Slovakia is the one that really matters.

But he will have learned a lot from these first games against Bulgaria and Finland.

He has got us passing the ball better, he has given some young kids a chance to make their mark and while they didn’t really take their chances, they will gain from the experience of playing senior international football.

I would expect some of the more experienced performers like James McClean and David McGoldrick to be back in the line-up for the Slovakia game.

And Kenny will have a few weeks to look at what went wrong and what he felt worked in these first two matches.

Kenny needs some time to find his feet at international level as he has not operated at this kind of level up to now in his career, so we need to be patient with him and the players he is working with.

Nothing feels right about football at this moment, with the roar of the crowd and the buzz they create around football stadiums sadly lacking, so hopefully the occasion we saw last night is not something we need to get used to for much longer.

Obviously, we can only think about bringing fans back into stadiums when the medical experts tell us its safe to do so, but international football without fans is a pretty miserable spectacle and here’s hoping it is brought to an end very soon.


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