Michael Obafemi left out for Republic of Ireland due to injuries – Stephen Kenny
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has insisted striker Michael Obafemi has been left out of his squad as a result of his anxiety over persistent injuries.
The highly-rated Nigeria-born Swansea striker made his senior debut for his country as an 18-year-old in November 2018, but fitness concerns and a lack of form since have seen him slip down the pecking order as the likes of Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah have overtaken him.
However, amid speculation that the former Southampton frontman, now 21, had rejected the opportunity of an under-21s call-up this month as the seniors prepare for friendlies against Belgium and Lithuania, manager Kenny said the reason for his absence was more prosaic.
Kenny said: “To be honest, Michael was never in the picture to be in this under-21s squad, so I’m not sure how that discussion occurred.
“He would have been considered for selection if he’d have been available. He wasn’t available for selection.
“The truth of it is that Michael has never played three games in a row before this year for his club, as far as I know.
“He’s not played three games consecutively in his career, and the reason for that really is because of his persistent hamstring troubles he’s had in his career.”
Obafemi, who joined the Swans in August last year, has managed 24 appearances to date this season and scored six times in his last nine, an encouraging return for a man whose progress Kenny is following closely.
He added: “I think there’s a degree of anxiety around Michael himself about being injured. He’s never had what he’s had before, a run of games, and he feels his load is so heavy, he’s concerned about re-injuring coming into the international team and trying to train every day and play and play again.
“He feels he needs to spend time with the physios to make sure he can continue in the vein of form.
“But he reiterated his commitment to Ireland. He wants to pay for Ireland, certain that he wants to play for Ireland, but just the degree of anxiety he feels around coming in this week with his injury load, that’s why he’s not considered.”
Middlesbrough’s Connolly too will be missing as he nurses a heel problem with Norwich’s Idah already ruled out by a knee injury.
However, there are returns for West Brom defender Dara O’Shea for the first time since he fractured an ankle in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat in Portugal in September, Blackburn counterpart Darragh Lenihan and Birmingham striker Scott Hogan, and first call-ups for Oxford midfielder Mark Sykes and frontman Connor Ronan, who is on loan at St Mirren from Wolves.
Ireland face world number one side Belgium at the Aviva Stadium in the FAI Centenary match on Saturday, March 26 and host Lithuania three days later, and while Roberto Martinez will not call upon many of his big names, Kenny is aware how much of a test the first leg of the double-header will be.
He said: “They said they aren’t including anyone with 50 caps, but they have named players with 47, 48.
“(Youri) Tielemans is a much sought-after player; they have three players for one centre-forward position, (Christian) Benteke, (Divock) Origi and (Michy) Batshuayi – and (Jeremy) Doku, who is a future star.
“They are a top-class international team. They are world number one for a reason and have a conveyor belt and strength in depth that’s admirable.”
Squad: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Mark Travers (Bournemouth), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham), Ryan Manning (Swansea), James McClean (Wigan), Shane Duffy (Brighton), John Egan (Sheffield United), Nathan Collins (Burnley), Dara O’Shea (West Brom), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn), Conor Hourihane (Sheffield United, on loan from Aston Villa), Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (QPR, on loan from Newcastle), Jayson Molumby (West Brom, on loan from Brighton, Alan Browne (Preston), Jason Knight (Derby), Mark Sykes (Oxford), Callum Robinson (West Brom), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham), Will Keane (Wigan), Scott Hogan (Birmingham), Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham), Connor Ronan (St Mirren, on loan from Wolves).
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