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Stephen Kenny to miss just one qualifier as Ireland under-21s draw Italy and Sweden

Wed, Dec 12 2018

Kenny will miss only the final qualifier, away to Italy, after taking the senior job in the summer of 2020 Credit: Hugh de Paor (ETPhotos)

Stephen Kenny will take charge of nine of the Republic of Ireland’s ten qualifying games for the 2021 under-21 European Championship before taking up the senior job in 2020.

Ireland were drawn into a tough group with top seeds Italy and Sweden at the draw in Nyon on Tuesday afternoon, with Iceland, Luxembourg and Armenia completing Group 1.

Nine group winners will qualify automatically for the finals, along with hosts Hungary and Slovenia, and the two best-placed runners-up will play off for the final spot in the 12-team finals.

Kenny said it will take ‘something extraordinary’ for Ireland to top the group but insists it will be a ‘great experience.’

Many of the players available will have experience playing both Italy and Sweden in qualification for the 2017 under-19 Euros, where Ireland were pipped by Sweden after both sides beat Italy.

There had initially been fears Kenny could lead for as few as six games in the campaign, but Ireland have frontloaded their fixtures meaning he will miss only the final game, away to Italy.

Seven of Ireland’s games will take place in 2019, with a home game against Luxembourg on March 24th his first chance to see his charges in competitive action.

Kenny’s final games in charge will see Ireland welcome Iceland to Tallaght on March 26th, 2020, before traveling to Luxembourg five days later.

The Tallaght native will then take the reins from Mick McCarthy as senior manager regardless of whether Ireland’s progression, or lack thereof, to the Euro 2020 finals.

"There are a number of teams in our group with great pedigree,” Kenny told the association’s media team.

“Italy got to the Under-19 European Championship finals recently so to test ourselves against these teams is going to be a great experience.

"With the two hosts qualifying automatically, there are only two play-off spots for qualification which in reality means we've got to finish top to qualify. For us to do that, we'll have to achieve something extraordinary.

"It's great to start the campaign in March at home and four home games next year for us which is exciting for the players.

“We won't have much preparation time before the first game but that is the challenge and I'm really looking forward to it.

"I need to go out and see all of the players across Ireland, England and Scotland to see which players are in form and who could come into the squad for March. The work starts straight away."