Sunday 15 September 2019

David Kelly: 'We need a long-term vision for Irish football this time, not another short-term fix'

FAI CEO John Delaney. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
FAI CEO John Delaney. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Just when Irish football needs an acute long-term 20/20 vision, the FAI will once more be ensnared by short-term 2020 myopia.

Dublin co-hosts UEFA's ballooning European Championships in two years' time and the FAI have no wish to be standing on the sidelines with the a**e hanging out of their trousers.

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And their chief executive John Delaney, who is already on the UEFA Executive Committee but, presumably, would like to advance even further in the sphere of sporting politics, is also not likely to welcome the prospect of facing into next weekend's draw without a manager dangling on his arm. Which is why the FAI - and Delaney - having submitted to accepting the end of the Martin O'Neill management reign long after this writer, and so many others, had declared it should have been - are now pressed into emergency action when thought and deep concentration is required.

It will be an embarrassment for the FAI to be manager-less at the draw in Dublin's Convention Centre on Saturday week - they could, at a pinch, endure that pratfall. But they can't risk missing the grand shindig when it hits these shores in 2020.

The priority will be to ensure qualification at all costs - and the cost continues to be quite hefty despite the scarcely credible affirmation that O'Neill and his team resigned or departed with mutual consent.

The FAI already coughed up the prospect of winning £1m (€1.12m) - the value of winning the "little league", as O'Neill contemptuously described the Nations League which, ironically, has now directly cost him his job.

With no Denis O'Brien or some such other mute ATM to bail out the governing body, the FAI will now be pressed into not only making a quick choice - but a cheap one too. Indeed, the hasty manner in which the managerial team were removed would indicate the next cab off the rank has its engine running.

The obvious candidate in this regard is Mick McCarthy and for both of those reasons he will be the incorrect one. It would be fantastic if he gets another job - Ipswich's decline demonstrates in McCarthy's absence that his managerial skills are indeed still relevant.

But it should not be the Irish manager's job. Just because he has unfinished business with Ireland does not mean that Ireland is compelled to return the favour. The curtain closed on that show more than a decade ago. It seems clear that he may want the gig - and crucially the FAI won't have to buy him out of any contract - but that does not necessarily mean that he should get it.

Irish football needs a long-term vision, not a short-term fix. If this seems impossible idealistic, the reality of this current crisis refutes this. Irish football is in this mess because of too many short-term solutions.

Stephen Kenny represents a personality who, not alone, but with a coherent structure supporting him, could husband the long-term future of the game here. But does anyone in the FAI share his all-embracing vision of football?

"Imagine Stephen Kenny sitting in front of them and trying to convince them that he might be good enough to be the manager of Ireland compared to anyone else?" Brian Kerr argued quite reasonably last week.

"Is his work not a demonstration of his excellence and his brilliance, the consistency of work in coming back from the disappointments of Dunfermline and Shamrock Rovers? To come out of all that and still be better. But these are the sort of people you have to convince."

The FAI, as usual, are possessed of neither the time nor the patience to display the depth of conviction of Kerr and others who are passionate about the listless direction of the sport. Like Giovanni Trapattoni before him, Martin O'Neill betrayed no obvious sign of wanting to form a deep and meaningful connection to all strands of the sport here.

Many people might feel that this is unimportant - the widespread bleating about Ireland's scoreless, witless wonders in recent months might suggest quite strongly that it is entirely relevant. What happens in the past affects the future.

The FAI are threatening to confuse this fact by hoping that someone who achieved success in the past might also achieve it in the future.

And sure, like O'Neill, who after a slow, uninspiring ascent peaked two years ago for a matter of weeks before a dizzying descent, McCarthy might inject an immediate shot of adrenaline into the senior team.

Stephen Kenny alone would not fix the short-term or indeed engage in the long-term. But he would have the ideas and the ideal candidates required to fulfil what the game needs in this country. Recent history suggests the FAI will have forgotten all their mistakes and yet again will be condemned to repeat them.

They could make an inspired choice by ensuring that, when McCarthy is presumably hauled in, Kenny is also approached with a view to becoming involved.

For once, the FAI might deploy the crystal ball rather than the hopeful punt.

Irish Independent

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