On the eve of Uganda Cranes’ departure for the African Nations Championships (CHAN) tournament in Cameroon, Johnathan McKinstry emphasised the importance of his players’ mentality.
The Cranes coach noted how it was important for the Cranes to control their fears which have perhaps plagued them in the CHAN finals and wear the ‘Why not us’ mentality along their sleeves for the tournament.
Uganda have been regular qualifiers for the tournament since 2010, missing only the inaugural edition in 2009, but they have not progressed beyond the group stages before.
McKinstry will be taking charge of just his second tournament as Cranes coach and has re-echoed the message that helped guide his Cranes side to the CECAFA triumph in 2019.
The 35-year-old Irishman is no stranger to success at CHAN though; reaching the quarter-finals in 2016 during his reign in Rwanda.
McKinstry who saw his Amavubi Stars side fall to eventual champions, DR Congo, via an extra-time goal claims that the difference between teams is not as much.
And the Cranes just need to find the right level of competitiveness if they are to break the barrier.
“I have said since I came here that we should carry the attitude of why not us,” McKinstry said.
“At tournaments like CHAN, the differences between teams are not so great. And really for us, if we go in confident and we give our best, we have the potential to go deep in the tournament.”
“But that is a challenge for the players, Why not us? Why can we not be there on the last weekend?”
“And so, it’s about being confident, being ambitious, and putting the work in so that we can make it to the final weekend of the tournament,” he continued.
The Cranes have had a week or so of training in Uganda which has been overshadowed by the incidents of Christmas day which saw goalkeeping coach Fred Kajoba suspended from camp for breaking COVID-19 regulations.
But McKinstry who is yet to comment on the issue has not let the mini-drama affect his team’s preparations, revealing that he is proud of the players’ mentality for the period they have been in camp.
“We have been in camp a week now, the players have pushed really hard and it is very clear everyone is really focussed, they want to earn their ticket to Cameroon,” McKinstry noted.
“You can see that in terms of the enthusiasm, the energy and the learning that has been happening in training throughout the week.”
“We are very pleased with the preparations, we have come through with no injuries, a couple of knocks though but nothing serious,” he added.
The Cranes will depart for Cameroon on Monday afternoon for a pre-CHAn mini-tournament that includes teams like Niger, Zambia and the hosts Cameroon.
The tournament will run from January 1-7, and McKinstry is cheery of the importance of the tournament towards their preparations for both the players and for the technical team to assess their plans.
“Now we travel to Cameroon where we are participating in a mini-tournament,” the Irishman stated.
“We think this is a good platform for the players not only to have good match preparations as a team, but also the opponents match up to some of our group opponents in terms of tactical approach.”
“I think it will be good, the players will have time to acclimatise to Cameroon and with the energy in the group, we cannot wait to get to Cameroon and start playing,” he said.
A contingent of up to 39 members including a squad of 25 players will leave for Cameroon on Monday evening.
Former Cranes goalkeeper Sadiq Wassa has been included on the technical team as a replacement for the embattled Fred Kajoba as goalkeeping coach.
The contingent will not include KCCA FC players who are expected to join the team later in Cameroon before the final squad for the tournament is named.
Goalkeepers: Joel Mutakubwa (Kyetume FC), Nafian Alionzi (URA FC), Tom Ikara (Police FC)
Defenders: Eric Ssenjobe (Police FC), Aziz Kayondo (Vipers SC), Paul Willa (Vipers SC), Ashraf Mandela (URA FC), Halid Lwaliwa (Vipers SC), Musitafa Mujuzi (Kyetume FC), Patrick Mbowa (URA FC), Hassan Muhammad (Police FC)
Midfielders: Shafiq Kagimu (URA FC), Tony Mawejje (Police FC), Bobosi Byaruhanga (Vipers SC), Karim Watambala (Vipers SC), Saidi Kyeyune (URA FC), Hassan Ssenyonjo (Wakiso Giants FC)
Forwards: Ben Ocen (Police FC), Ibrahim Orit (Vipers SC), Vianne Ssekajjugo (Wakiso Giants FC), Joseph Ssemujju (BUL FC), Joackim Ojera (URA FC), Milton Karisa (Vipers SC), Stephen Mukwala (URA FC), Mohamed Shaban (Vipers SC)