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Highlights on Off The Ball


"That’s a big ask for Shane Duffy and John Egan" | Kenny Cunningham

Kenny Cunningham joined OTB AM on Friday to review the Republic of Ireland's performance against...

Kenny Cunningham joined OTB AM on Friday to review the Republic of Ireland's performance against Bulgaria in the UEFA Nations League.

An injury-time header from Shane Duffy rescued a 1-1 draw in Stephen Kenny's first game as manager.

A change in playing style was clearly evident as Ireland completed over 500 passes and had 63 percent of possession. Cunningham feels this new approach will ask a lot of the centre-halves that play.

"Stephen [Kenny] wants to play this way, possession based. Our centre-halves are going to have to be comfortable stepping forward," the former Republic of Ireland captain said.

"Not just getting the ball and passing it to fullbacks or passing it into midfield and getting it back. That’s all reasonably safe and not really going to hurt the opposition.

"What will hurt the opposition is the ability to step forward into central midfield areas and commit opposition players."

This ability to step forward with the ball is particularly important when the opposition is blocking passes into James McCarthy from the defence.


"Any opposition team realises that the holding midfield player is key. They are not going to make it easy for him to get on the ball," Cunningham explained.

"Invariably you’re going to find that one of your centre-halves is spare. Basically they’re saying to you, 'we’ll give one of your defenders possession of the ball because what are they going to do with it'.

"That’s when you really need one of your two centre-halves to be able to drive with the ball, carry the ball into the midfield area and draw one of the opposition players to them to free up space.

There were many instances in the game in Sofia where Shane Duffy and John Egan stepped forward into the midfield area but looked uncomfortable and ended up making errors.


"It's an easy thing to say but not such an easy thing to do," Cunningham said

"It's not an easy thing for a centre-half to step forward ten or 15 yards ahead of their defensive partner and head toward a congested area of the pitch. They have to have the nerve to back themselves, to keep their head up and play a pass to break the lines.

"Some top class centre halves can do it and if we’re going to be a team that play out from the back we'll have to do it.

"That’s a big ask for Shane Duffy and John Egan."

Cunningham mentioned West Brom's Dara O'Shea as a player who may be suited to this role in the future.

"He is a player who’s actually a very good passer of the ball. He could actually come into the reckoning going forward in Stephen’s eyes."

After a draw in Sofia, Ireland will be looking to take all three points when they face Finland on Sunday in the Aviva stadium.

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John Egan Kenny Cunningham Republic Of Ireland Shane Duffy Stephen Kenny