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Mattie Kenny was the preference of the Dublin hurling squad to take over as manager from Pat Gilroy, according to Eoghan O'Donnell. The Whitehall Colmcille man admits now that Gilroy's unexpected decision to step down from that post felt "almost like a death in the family" when he learned of it. Yet the presence of Kenny as a ready, willing and very obviously able replacement has quelled some of the angst over Gilroy's abrupt departure. "Mattie probably was the first choice between the players," O'Donnell readily admits, "his record speaks for itself." As it happens, O'Donnell was one of three Dublin players who met with Kenny in the Clayton Hotel in Liffey Valley last Friday "just to go over plans for the year". At that meeting, Kenny "made it clear that this isn't a transition period, we are going to build on what happened last year and we won't reinvent the wheel". O'Donnell was in Croatia when Pat Gilroy phoned him late on a Sunday in mid-September. At first, he admits now: "I thought it was one of the lads taking the pi** out of me, I couldn't believe it at all." Then, as the reality of what Gilroy had called to tell him set in, O'Donnell feeling "like a death in the family almost, it was a shock to everyone". "We had such a good year last year and it came out of the blue completely. "It was like bomb dropped. "There was disbelief and there was a few phone calls after to see if we could make it work and heat said no, he was going and would be away for most of the year.

SOCCER

Richard Keogh admits that it took the Republic of Ireland squad a long time to get the shock of their World Cup defeat to Denmark out of their system. Martin O'Neill's side have played three competitive games since that horror show at home to the Danes 12 months ago, with a return of one point from three games and one goal scored. The Irish team have one more game to go in the competition, away to Denmark on Monday, but the skipper in Ireland's last game feels that the clouds from the Danish pasting hung low. "We have come up against some tough countries and the downer of not qualifying for the World Cup, and the way it happened, probably affects us more as a group than we thought," says Keogh. "When you get so close to something so great, to have that dip at the end was a hammer blow. Probably as a group it affected us a bit. When we came back, we were still deflated a bit by it. "We've shrugged it off now. We've put in some good performances, we've always have bad ones as well. It's about finding consistency and hopefully in these two games we can do that," added the Derby County player. "Things can get taken out of context, but we go into every game trying to win. We want to try and do as well as possible for our country. "Especially the Wales game, I don't think we deserved to lose that game, though obviously it was a bit of quality in the end, the free-kick that settled it. If you look at us, we were trying to win the game. We were going for it and we put them under severe pressure in the end. If we had nicked it, I don't think anyone could have argued.