Friday 20 October 2017

Kenny man with a mission

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

"MAYBE I should have taken a break," says Stephen Kenny, pausing to consider the question of why he returned to work so quickly after his bitter departure from Shamrock Rovers.

It becomes apparent that he has considered this question many times, as the brief hint of doubt is followed by a defiant burst which explains why he will be in the home dugout when the Hoops visit Dundalk for the big kick-off of the Airtricity League tonight.

"I was going to take some time, travel and have a look at teams," he says. "And when Dundalk contacted me, well, there had been talk about their (artificial) pitch over the last few years and the club have maybe gone through a bad time.

"But then I thought,'it's a real football town. It has got great potential and tradition', so I decided, 'f**k the pitch'. And so what if the stadium isn't great? Raw passion is more important than any of that. It's my job to bring that back. To reignite the interest."

Kenny's last statement refers to the club, but you sense that the Dubliner is trying to restore something in himself. This opening fixture has inevitably placed the spotlight on his troubled stint in the Tallaght hotseat which was ended ignominiously last September after less than a season in charge.

Don't try and tell him that the devising of the fixture list was a coincidence. "I don't think it's happened by accident," he says. "They want to generate interest."

The Oriel Park meetings of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers are generally spicy affairs anyway and, for Kenny, the intensity of the build-up has provided special focus to the start to a new journey.

"Every single season you've got to prove yourself as a manager," he says. "I've always known that. That'll never change, whoever you are."

In the opposite corner, Trevor Croly (pictured below) is facing the suffocating attention for the first time.

Kenny's full-time replacement – after Brian Laws' temporary stint – has forged a fine reputation as a No 2, particularly for his work at Rovers under Michael O'Neill and at Liam Buckley's St Patrick's Athletic.

Croly, who, like Kenny, came under the influence of the late, great Noel O'Reilly at Belvedere, doesn't really get drawn into answering how he feels about the cameras shining on him if it all goes wrong.

"I can't control what people think externally," he says. "When you lose, it hits you the same whether you are the coach or the manager. It hurts you the same. You analyse it. It drives you around the bend. It shouldn't feel too much different."

The popular description of the challenge Croly faces is the need to atone for the damaging year which cost Kenny his job, but the 39-year-old prefers to point out that the preceding years weren't plain sailing either.

tricky

"I don't mean to be rude or smart, but with all the success we had then, there were bad days as well, some tricky times.

"When we went in initially (with O'Neill) it wasn't always a bed of roses. People remember the good times now, but there were bad ones too and that's when you need the right quality, when it gets tricky. Not just in football, but in all parts of life.

"We've got to leave last year, and the year before that, behind us. The club has fantastic history and it's important we appreciate that and respect it, but we have to concentrate on making our own."

The Setanta Cup has allowed the punters to see how Croly's vision is developing and Monday's drubbing of Linfield suggested a formidable prospect.

Dundalk, on the other hand, are a relatively unknown quantity after a pre-season of change.

Kenny is honest enough to admit that he didn't get all the players he wanted, but a contributory factor in that was his insistence that every signing did all of their training in Dundalk rather than looking to spend one night a week in Dublin.

Kenny wants his players to buy into his ethos, which stresses the importance of the club within a community.

At Derry, he brought in players from outside who could embrace it and he is trying to find that formula again.

His two most interesting recruits are a pair of Irish lads who have come home from Scotland, with ex-Celtic and Hibs midfielder Richie Towell and striker Kurtis Byrne, who briefly featured at Hibs, expected to be key players this term.

Kenny is optimistic that winter work on the controversial surface will make it more suitable for attractive football. Tonight should be a battle, however. "There won't be a lack of passion, that's for certain," says Kenny, with a glint in his eye.

History, both distant and recent, should make this a curtain raiser with an edge.

Irish Independent

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