Football | Perfect start to Stephen Kenny’s U21 reign

Stephen Kenny’s reign as Republic of Ireland U21 manager has started with an emphatic win.

The Boys in Green beat Luxembourg 3-0 in Tallaght, with Adam Idah (two) and Neil Farrugia grabbing the goals in the Euro 2021 qualifier.

It was an attacking, stylish display in Dublin, and the perfect start to both the Kenny era and Ireland’s qualifying campaign.

Norwich City striker Idah made his U21 debut in a starting eleven which featured three League of Ireland players.

Farrugia (UCD) was joined by Bohs defender Darragh Leahy and
Zach Elbouzedi (Waterford) in a team which was skippered by Brighton midfielder Jayson Molumby.

Liverpool duo Caoimhin Kelleher (goalkeeper) and Conor Masterson (centre back) both started, as did Manchester United defender Lee O’Connor, West Ham prospect Conor Coventry, and midfielder Connor Ronan (on loan at FC DAC 1904 from Wolves).

Ireland made a strong start against the visitors in front of the
4,472 strong crowd, with Idah finding the side netting after a fine pass from Elbouzedi.

Luxembourg offered little attacking threat, but Ireland had to be patient in attack, and didn’t make their deserved breakthrough until the 34th minute.

Idah darted to the front post to meet Farrugia’s corner, and the 17-year-old striker headed home to score the first competitive goal of Kenny’s reign.

It took the hosts just four minutes to score again, and the hugely impressive Ronan was heavily involved.

After good work from Idah to nick the ball back in midfield, Ronan played a perfectly weighted through ball down the left channel to Farrugia, who calmly dinked it over the onrushing Tom Ottele to double Ireland’s advantage.

Elbouzedi was close to adding a third before the interval, but his shot flew narrowly over after good play from Ronan and Idah.

Molumby almost produced a wonder goal in the second half after a poor clearance from Ottele fell at his feet, but the Ireland captain was unfortunate to see his delightful effort from 35 yards strike the crossbar.

Ireland remained in complete control of the contest, and Idah put the game beyond doubt in the 68th minute.

Ronan drove forward from midfield on the counter, and played a perfect pass to Idah just outside the box.

The 18-year-old forward took a touch to get the ball out of his feet, before producing a low finish to cap off a superb debut.

Ronan, Elbouzedi, and Moumby all had chances to add a fourth, and Kenny exhausted his bench in the final quarter.

Domestic quartet Jamie Lennon, Dan Mandroiu, Brandon Kavanagh, and Aaron Drinan were all given a taste of the action in the closing stages, as was Linfield striker Michael O’Connor.

“I thought it was a really good performance,” a delighted Kenny told Eir Sport afterwards.

“The players have been brilliant all week.”

There will be tougher tests to come in a group containing Italy, Sweden, Armenia, and Iceland, but this was a hugely promising start from the U21 side.

Ireland’s next qualifier takes place against Armenia in Dublin in September, followed closely by a trip to Sweden.

Ireland team: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool); Lee O’Connor (Manchester United), Dara O’Shea (Exeter City), Conor Masterson (Liverpool), Darragh Leahy (Bohs); Jayson Molumby (Brighton), Conor Coventry (West Ham United); Zach Elbouzedi (Waterford), Connor Ronan (FC DAC 1904), Neil Farrugia (UCD); Adam Idah (Norwich City).

Substitutes: Jamie Lennon (St. Pat’s) for Molumby (78 mins), Dan Mandroiu (Bohs) for Ronan (86 mins), Brandon Kavanagh (Shamrock Rovers) for Farrugia, Michael O’Connor (Linfield) for Elbouzedi, Aaron Drinan (Waterford) for Idah (89 mins).