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Callum Robinson is convinced the Republic of Ireland are heading in the right direction despite their disappointing Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.
Ireland will not be in Germany for next summer’s finals – barring an unlikely series of results elsewhere which could hand them a second chance via the play-offs – after taking just six points from their first seven Group B fixtures, with just a tough trip to the Netherlands next month to come.
That has left manager Stephen Kenny fighting for his job, but Cardiff striker Robinson believes the foundations the 51-year-old has put in place since succeeding Mick McCarthy in April 2021 could yet pay dividends.
Speaking after Monday night’s 4-0 victory over Gibraltar in Faro, the 28-year-old said: “There’s so much potential and it’s a hard one for everybody to hear, but I think we’ve come a long way, football-wise.
“Now it’s getting over the other side by getting wins and three points. It’s been disappointing that we haven’t got the results we wanted, but if you look from the time the gaffer came in, it’s been chalk and cheese. We’re playing much better football.
“But it’s about bringing all of it together, being the team that’s hard to beat, scores goals and get wins.”
Kenny’s masterplan has been to overhaul his squad – he has handed out 20 debuts and used 52 different players in his time at the helm – with many of the newcomers elevated from the under-21 ranks.
We nicked results, but it wasn’t enjoyable to watch
The average age of the starting line-up at the Estadio Algarve was a little under 25.4; that figure was in excess of 28.8 for McCarthy’s final fixture against Denmark in November 2019.
However, whatever progress Kenny believes has been made has not been reflected in results, with the win in Faro just his sixth in 28 competitive matches and only one of note, a 3-0 Nations League victory over Scotland.
But Robinson said: “I can remember when I first joined the squad, everyone was saying that we weren’t playing enough football, just hitting it up there and hoping.
“That’s not so long ago, only five years ago. We nicked results, but it wasn’t enjoyable to watch. Now we’re playing good football and it’s about bringing that balance, being good in both boxes.”
Robinson was one of Ireland’s goalscorers in Faro, marking the latest stage in his re-emergence from a long-term hamstring injury which was followed by a back problem and in the meantime, he has seen 18-year-old Evan Ferguson, who also found the back of the net on Monday evening, take his chance with both hands.
Asked about the competition, the older man said: “That’s football and he’s flying. I’m here to help. It’s competition and we’ll push each other.
“He’s a young kid, but is coming on leaps and bounds watching him week in, week out and he’s been nominated for the (European) Golden Boy (Award).
“He’s level-headed and if he stays the way he is off the pitch, he’ll have an unbelievable career.”
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