Stephen Kenny says Michael Obafemi is 'sincere' in his commitment to Ireland

Stephen Kenny says Michael Obafemi is 'sincere' in his commitment to Ireland

FRIDAY AFTERNOON FOLLOWED the time-honoured tradition, with an Irish manager’s squad announcement was dominated by talk of those not there.

Stephen Kenny named his squad for the friendlies with Belgium and Lithuania and then faced questions as to why neither Michael Obafemi nor Aaron Connolly were included. Both have dropped down to the Championship this season in the search for regular game time and form, and found it to varying degrees.

Obafemi is in the best form of his embryonic career, with six goals in his last nine games for Swansea. Connolly, meanwhile, is playing regularly for Middlesbrough and scored his second goal since joining in January against Birmingham in midweek.

Neither are in the Irish squad, however, as both have made themselves unavailable for fitness reasons. Obafemi is fit but wants to ease the workload on his fragile hamstrings, while Connolly is nursing a heel injury. Though playing games at the moment, Connolly has been unable to train.

Kenny decided to take the players at their word and is not brining them into the Irish camp to assess their fitness, though admits both players are harming their chances of being involved in the Nations League campaign in June by not linking up with the squad. Kenny is in no doubt as to Obafemi’s long-term commitment to Ireland, however, with the latest overhaul of the eligibility rules meaning he can yet declare for Nigeria, in spite of being capped in Martin O’Neill’s final game in charge back in 2018.

“Michael is ambitious and I think the best is still to come from him and he’s shown potential in the last few weeks, maybe more so because he’s been able to get consecutive games”, said Kenny. “There was speculation about whether he would want to be part of Ireland in the future – the speculation regarding Nigeria – but he was on the phone the other night to me and he said: ‘Stephen, I really want to play for Ireland. It’s important to me but I just have to get myself right. It’s the first time I’ve had a run of games.’ That’s the way he feels.


Stephen Kenny. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It’s not a qualifier. Every game is important. On one hand I, as manager, have said international football is the most important thing of your career. So I have said that and I do get the point [regarding] Michael not coming in, where does that leave him. But his reasons are sincere. I suppose you have to look at it from both sides, or from every side, and would he have a better chance of playing in June if he was with us in March? Yes, he would. But, you know, that’s where we are with that. Does it rule him out? No it doesn’t. These are the things we have to weigh up and in every camp.”

Kenny is not concerned that Obafemi may yet choose to change his international allegiances.

Stephen Kenny says Michael Obafemi is 'sincere' in his commitment to Ireland

“Having spoken to him the other day I am not too concerned, he seemed very sincere. I wanted to hear that directly, and yeah, he was very sincere.”

Another player to miss out is Festy Ebosele, instead part of the Irish U21 squad for a European qualifier against Sweden. Derby manager Wayne Rooney revealed today that Ebosele is on the verge of a move to Italy, believed to be to Udinese.

“Yeah it is interesting”, said Kenny. “It is hard to know about that. I think he is an asset for any team. I would have been happy for him to stay at Derby and develop, personally. Because Wayne Rooney has done a terrific job developing young players there, numerous players.

“I would have been happy for Festy to stay there but it’s into the unknown a little for us. I am not against [Irish players] going to Italy, so long as they play regularly. The key thing is they get an opportunity to play.”

Alongside Ebosele in the U21s camp is striker Evan Ferguson, who has made a Premier League debut at the age of 17 since Kenny last picked a senior squad. “Evan has only had a couple of U21 games”, said Kenny. “He is still young. We decided not to bring him in now. He has not played many games for Brighton but he is a terrific prospect. Hopefully he does well in Sweden for the 21s. He is a terrific prospect and we are very pleased with him.”


Get closer to the stories that matter with exclusive analysis, insight and debate in The42 Membership.

Become a Member

Rather than blood Ferguson, Kenny has called up an almost forgotten figure, Scott Hogan. The striker hasn’t played for Ireland since 2019, but has 10 goals in 30 Championship games for Birmingham this season.“Since Lee Bowyer has come in, Birmingham are playing differently”, explained Kenny.

“Last year, he was playing in a low block, a low press, and he’d get minimal touches in the game as they were playing on the counter attack.

“First of all, they play differently now. When they were playing last year he was playing in a low press and block, trying to counter-attack and he sometimes got minimal touches in games.

“I think that he’s in physically much better condition this season. They are playing a high press and the demands of how Lee Bowyer has set them up means that they have been to be exceptionally fit to play.

“He is very fit and he’s obviously got the benefits of this, scoring ten goals in the Championship. He has looked a threat and he gets on the end of chances.

“He’s a different type of player than what we have. I’m pleased that he is physically different than last season, I feel.”

Image placeholder

George Washington

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit. Ducimus itaque, autem necessitatibus voluptate quod mollitia delectus aut, sunt placeat nam vero culpa sapiente consectetur similique, inventore eos fugit cupiditate numquam!