Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has insisted “nothing is impossible” as he plots Euro 2024 qualifying victories over European superpowers France and the Netherlands in September.
Kenny’s men belatedly opened their Group B account with a 3-0 victory over Gibraltar at the Aviva Stadium on Monday evening to ease at least a little of the disappointment of Friday night’s 2-1 defeat in Greece.
Ireland’s hopes of securing one of the top two spots look forlorn unless they can pull off a series of shock results, but that is exactly what Kenny intends to do.
Asked what his message was to the players, he replied: “It’s a seven-day window just, it’s a short window. It’s France on a Thursday night in Paris and Holland on a Sunday night here in the Aviva Stadium, so it’s a really, really exciting window.
“They’re two really tough games, there’s no doubt about it, but very exciting games. We’ve just got to make sure we’re well prepared for them. They’re epic games.
“At the same time, nothing is impossible, that’s how we feel about it.
“Obviously we pushed France very close [at home]. I know this is different in Paris, but it will be an interesting game for us and very exciting, the two games.”
For 45 minutes, Ireland hammered away at the visitors, but without the craft, pace or guile to break them down, although it took a fine reaction save from goalkeeper Dayle Coleing to deny Jamie McGrath seconds before the break.
The game changed, however, with Celtic winger Mikey Johnston’s half-time introduction and he had already sparked terror in the Gibraltar defence on three occasions when he ran on to Will Smallbone’s half-blocked free-kick and stabbed into the empty net for his first senior international goal.
Evan Ferguson increased the lead within seven minutes and substitute Adam Idah finally opened his Ireland account in stoppage time to secure the first points of the campaign at the third attempt.
Asked if Johnston, whose four caps to date have come from the bench, could make a similar impact over 90 minutes, Kenny said: “He’s been terrific. Definitely he can start matches. I had it in my head that probably he was going to start, but it didn’t happen for him in Greece.
Mikey Johnston (centre) inspired the Republic of Ireland to victory over Gibraltar (Niall Carson/PA)
“We’re still obviously a bit disappointed about Greece, we’re not getting away from that, we were disappointed with that. It wasn’t his night, certainly, when he came on, but he has terrific talent, I really appreciate his talent.
“He’s a Celtic player and it will be interesting if he goes back there or not, we’ll see how his career goes over the summer.”
Victory over the team ranked 201st in the world – Gibraltar have now lost 3-0 to all four of the other teams in the group – is unlikely to silence Kenny’s critics, but it at least gets them off the mark.
Kenny said: “We obviously made life difficult for ourselves after Friday night. But Greece are a good team. They have to play Holland twice, we have to play Holland twice, and France in France.
“In my opinion, France will win the group, so we just have to have good September and October windows.
“The return game with Greece will be a different game, and obviously tough games against Holland and France. But we still have every chance and we just have to back ourselves in those windows.”