Kenny 'no regrets' over Dunfermline or demoted Derry
Published 06/01/2010 | 05:00
STEPHEN KENNY spent yesterday answering the phone to Scottish journalists, entitled to wonder why fate has dealt him such a hand.
He understood why the calls were coming. It was the natural move, in the context of the Pat Fenlon/Dundee United developments, to canvas the last League of Ireland manager to make such a move across the water. Kenny's dalliance with Dunfermline three years ago started promisingly but veered terribly off course. When he got shown the door, he didn't realise that the pain was just beginning.
The only consolation then was the security of a return to Derry City. So-called security, as it happened. Now, after Derry's year of shame, which culminated with expulsion from the league, the Dubliner is preparing for life in the League of Ireland First Division, a level that he has not experienced since his first job at Longford.
As the only full-time employee at a club with a new board desperately trying to mend the terrible errors of their predecessors, he's returned to the kind of challenge he looked to have moved beyond. The obvious question is why he chose to stick around when Dundalk, to name but one, were willing to offer a way back to the top flight.
"When I moved the family home from Scotland, going back to the First Division wasn't part of the plan. And it certainly wasn't the plan that I wouldn't get paid for some of the year and have a disastrous time like 2009," he admits.
"Certainly, I strongly considered leaving. I was close because I'd had enough at the end of the season. The whole thing was an embarrassment for the club, a real low point.
"But it just didn't sit right for me to leave. I felt the club was probably at its lowest ever ebb. And I realised there's some very good players, some very talented teenagers that will become top-end League of Ireland players. So I just felt I would stay on and give it a go."
The change of regime was necessary if Derry were to have a chance of existing at any level. Kenny didn't know the group of local businessmen, led by Philip O'Doherty, the founder of E&I Engineering who list the new Aviva Stadium as one of their projects, before they rode in to save the day.
They felt a duty to keep senior football alive in a city where it's relevant. An important point as far as Kenny is concerned. He has always stressed that people in Dublin don't quite understand the affinity which the locals have with their team on Foyleside, even if goodwill has been damaged by the mistakes of 2009. Nevertheless, the Tallaght man senses those bridges can be built.
"There's bus companies that haven't been paid, hospitals that haven't paid, doctors that haven't been paid," he admits, "Administration and staff and other people. There's a lot of apathy around the locality and a lot of headaches involved but they're trying to start again.
"Derry's a unique city and it's been through a lot. I think up here, people rally around their own when things go badly and there's a sense of that. All the people involved, they've done well in their own businesses, they're professional people and they're aware that what happened at the club last year didn't reflect well on the city as well as the club itself."
Kenny doesn't wish to dwell on what went before, acknowledging that he should have seen the warning signs when the players had to travel in two separate groups to the Europa League tie against Skonto Riga in Latvia. What he is determined to do is defend the integrity of the players who had dual contracts -- one which they agreed with the club, the other a falsified version sent to the FAI. The on-field staff insisted they were unaware of the crime that resulted in deserved punishment.
"The accusation that everyone was in some sort of mass conspiracy was absolutely ridiculous," argues Kenny, "To try and organise it would be impossible, and to suggest it was very damaging. It hurt a lot of the players."
Most of those players have moved on. Ruaidhri Higgins, Stephen Gray and Gareth McGlynn to Bohs, Peter Hutton to Cliftonville while Clive Delaney and David Scullion are Oz bound.
The manager has convinced locals Gerard Doherty, Eddie McCallion and Kevin Deery to stay on reduced 40-week deals, with stylish midfielder Deery appointed club captain. They are notable coups and, allied to promising youths, the Candystripes have a chance of bouncing back.
"It's not all about technical ability though," he cautions, "Going to Waterford or Monaghan or these places. There will be physical exchanges and we'll have to learn a lot about it."
Kenny knows plenty about taking punishment, to the extent that it's easy to forget that he's still a young manager at the age of 38. Been there, seen it, done it. And ready to start all over again.