Friday 18 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Kenny is the right man but he needs to be given time'

2022 World Cup qualification would be a bonus - but it shouldn't be expected

Stephen Kenny has named his Ireland U21 squad for qualifiers against Armenia and Sweden
Stephen Kenny has named his Ireland U21 squad for qualifiers against Armenia and Sweden
David Kelly

David Kelly

Summer recess and the doubts and anxieties are the same as they ever were. Punctured, perhaps, by the ever-present hopes and anticipation that the senior international team can somehow, some way, get the results to ensure qualification for a European Championships.

The mantra is wearily predictable. "It's all that matters." Really? "The entire nation is behind us." Really? Well, say it often enough and it seems everyone will believe the hype.

Most people won't mind once the senior team win the games that matter. Some continue to remain dispirited with the style of play and the absence of coherent strategy concerning the sport in this country but, as ever, theirs is a dwindling, as well as a silent, minority.

The shoulder-shrugging indifference that accompanied universal acceptance of Robbie Keane's willingness to job share is indicative of the prevailing mood.

Everything will be all right once the Irish get to party next summer, making all the angst and uncertainty of this one all the worthwhile.

Heaven forfend anyone who cavils at the extravagantly short-sighted decision to wheelbarrow an obscene amount of cash towards the management team, as they may have done when the same largesse was showered upon messrs Trapattoni and O'Neill.

The masses only care for the tip of the iceberg - their engagement, as the streets and crowded bars of Dublin reminded us on Champions League final Saturday, is with English football or the Irish national team.

For them, it is all about having a few drinks and seeing their side win. One week, Liverpool. Next, Ireland. All together now. "Low lie..."

The flagship Irish side is still one everyone wants competing on the big stage but few really care how the participants are curated along the way.


The results and the hoopla of a summer jamboree are "all that matters", as if that will take care of everything.

Years of experience - and a fairly ignorant regard for how the FAI went about its business apart from those journalists who doggedly pursued the issue when it was neither popular nor profitable to do so - reminds us that this does not reflect reality.

Demands for corporate governance hardly take precedence when there are so many plastic green hammers to be inflated.

The blind hope for the odd tournament jackpot every four years or so - a €2m managerial contract here, a €2m managerial contract there - has consistently ignored any attempt to join the dots.

Especially when the perceived jackpots have, rather than enriching the game with much-needed development funds for all strands, somehow left the sport here in a more perilous financial condition.

Nobody cares for what lies beneath until one day Marian Finucane wheezes in distaste at an Irish loss to Denmark and the Liveline opens to reveal extravagant levels of faux outrage. This is how Irish football really works for those large numbers who merely skim its surface.

And yet, with remarkable foresight - remarkable in that it was nothing of the sort, merely an adjunct to a short-term fix - the discredited FAI's deferred appointment of Stephen Kenny has attempted to right so many historical wrongs.

In a summer where two under-age sides have competed in European finals for the first time in two decades, and an U-21 side featured at the prestigious Toulon invitational tournament, perhaps Irish football, even if it does qualify next summer, can begin to coherently develop a progressive path towards sustainability.

Kenny's role in all this will be crucial until the point when he takes over from McCarthy which, regardless of public posturing, may still become a bone of contention.

Just as the public clamour for change clumsily forced the FAI into tagging Kenny on to the latest management ticket, there is no guarantee that the next version of the FAI - presumably constituted by then - will stick to their guns regardless of any "written agreements".

If one can riskily make an assumption with regard to FAI business, Kenny will be landed with a fearsome task which has eluded every Irish manager since 2001, namely securing qualification for a World Cup.

While McCarthy needs to ensure Ireland are one of 24 teams involved next summer, Kenny's side will only have one of 13 slots to aim for in Qatar when the campaign begins after next autumn's Nations League.

We are unsure yet whether there will be any convenient Nations League loopholes - FIFA have not made a decision on that one yet.

Nevertheless, Kenny will be mindful that, after being drafted into a Euro qualifying campaign 16 years ago with two games already lost, his old mentor Brian Kerr was only afforded one World Cup campaign before the FAI decided not to renew his contract.

This time, as Kenny seeks to bed down his preferred style of play and identity with many of the players he will have helped develop, will the FAI's - or public's - patience hold firm if once again a World Cup eludes the Republic?

By 2024, presumably if still allowed, Kenny will envision Ireland qualifying for that year's European Championship.

Irish Independent

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