Stephen Kenny takes over as Ireland manager

Above: Stephen Kenny.
Photo: WikiCommons.

David Prendeville

One very small piece of good news to come about over the last number of weeks is that Mick McCarthy’s reign of terror as Ireland manager has come to an end.
I’ve documented in this paper the absurd selection decisions, the dinosaur tactics and arrogance of approach inherent in McCarthy’s second coming. It was a terrible, retrograde appointment by the FAI.
In fairness, McCarthy never got to see out the end of the campaign to see if they would have qualified for Euro 2020 through the play-offs.
However, had Ireland squeezed their way into the tournament (something I would not be confident of), it still could not be regarded as a success story. Sure, Ireland don’t have a great team at this moment in time, but it’s a lot easier to qualify for the European Championships than it used to be, and I believe Ireland can do a lot better than they did in the qualification campaign. Selecting some of their best players such as Matt Doherty might have helped in that department.
The man McCarthy has been replaced by is Ireland Under-21 manager and former Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. The manager is noted for his possession-based, expansive approach to the game, which should stand in stark contrast to McCarthy’s eye-bleeding fare. He’s also excelled at getting the best out of limited players, his European adventures with Dundalk the most prominent example of this. The 48-year-old is also familiar with and has had success with our promising batch of Under-21 players.
One of the most depressing aspects of McCarthy’s tenure was his refusal to bring through young players. McCarthy almost relished pointing to the fact Aaron Connolly had gone off the boil after a blistering start to his senior Brighton career, as justification for why he was slow to play him.
That’s not what anyone wants from a manager and what a discouraging message that sends out to the players who are the future of our national team.
One would expect to see far more engagement with youth under Kenny’s watch. We would hope to see much more of exciting talents such as Connolly, Spurs’s Troy Parrott, Brighton’s Jayson Molumby (currently on-loan at Millwall), Southampton’s Micheal Obafemi and Willy Smallbone and Derby’s Jason Knight, to name but some.
It will be interesting to see who from the old guard will be retained in Kenny’s vision. This is complicated further by the fact that this changeover has essentially happened in the middle of the qualifying campaign.
One wouldn’t expect to see the widespread changes that come with the retirement of players after major tournaments. Surely, however, it spells the end for players such as Glenn Whelan, plying his trade in League One Fleetwood Town and now 36?
One would expect and hope to see more of Matt Doherty under Kenny, but that is unlikely to be at the expense of captain Seamus Coleman, in the play-offs and Euro 2021, should we qualify. Kenny, unlike his predecessor, may actually do some work on the training ground in attempting to find a way our two best players can play together.
He can do this either by playing Doherty as a winger, or by pushing Coleman into the back three position he’s recently been playing for Everton, and deploying wing-backs – something that would suit Doherty and Enda Stevens on the other side wonderfully.
Coleman, who’s been a fantastic servant, may well hang up his boots post Euro 2021. Now 31 and with his injury history, it’s hard to imagine him remaining an option for the World Cup in Qatar in 2024 and thus he will probably retire before that qualifying campaign.
Other players likely to be phased out before Kenny’s first full qualifying campaign include David McGoldrick (32) and possibly James McClean (31), though one can’t imagine him retiring from international football so long as he can run.
All of this will also really depend on whether Ireland qualify for Euro 2021 and, if so, how they fare there. Other players such as Doherty, Shane Duffy, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady should have plenty left in the tank for another qualifying campaign and Qatar, should we qualify.
Kenny has already made a canny move in an effort to demonstrate his authority and distance himself from the previous regime, through his decision not to retain Robbie Keane on his coaching staff. This is in spite of the fact Keane had a contract to remain so (another brilliant decision by the FAI).
This indicates how he is very much his own man and also that he will not shy away from tough decisions. Kenny’s appointment means, for the first time, in a long time there is reason to be excited about the future of Irish football.
Stephen Kenny kicks off his campaign against Bulgaria in the Nations League on September 3rd. Our European Championship qualifier against Slovakia is scheduled for October.
NewsFour would also like to take this opportunity to express our sadness at the news of former Ireland manager Jack Charlton’s passing. We pass on our condolences to his family and loved ones.