Saturday 19 October 2019

Kenny fires volley at government for suspending funding

Support was always inadequate, insists U-21 boss

Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

For Stephen Kenny, the announcement of his latest U-21 squad was a day to talk about the health of Irish football and not his own personal well-being.

The 47-year-old can appreciate curiosity about his setback in Sweden, but the matter of real public interest on his mind is the topical issue of the FAI's relationship with the government.

He raised it in the context of the hype around next Thursday's visit of Italy to Tallaght Stadium, a game that sold out weeks in advance due to the interest levels created by his talented young group. Kenny reckons they could have doubled the 8,000 attendance if there was a suitable venue.

Tallaght is expanding, with the support of South Dublin County Council making that stadium a success story. Kenny's gripe is that it hasn't been replicated around the country.

Turmoil

And while the FAI are in no position to defend themselves right now, following six months of turmoil, the Dubliner believes the government's attitude towards the sport over a longer-term period should be explored.

The suspension of state funding has made life uncomfortable for the FAI and jeopardised infrastructural projects. But Kenny sees a certain irony in that stance.

"At the moment there is criticism of the FAI and I think that we're saying corporate governance is why the FAI is not being funded by the government and so forth," said Kenny.

"But when there was a perception that there wasn't issues related to corporate governance, the funding was still wholly inadequate for stadia.

"We are in a very unique situation in Ireland where, for example, we are scrapping around for a small bit of money for Finn Harps for the last 10 years so they can move to Stranorlar.

"And yet in other sports, they have tens of millions of overruns. Not even costs, overruns. Tens of millions. And they are not even national scandal."

Kenny was asked if he was referring to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh project in Cork.

"Well, it's for me to say," he replied. "But football in Ireland has been hugely underfunded for a long time and there's no emphasis on stadium development. We are not going to improve overall because our stadiums are - compared to other European countries - a very poor standard."

The ex-Bohemians manager is frustrated by the planned 6,000 capacity for a renovated Dalymount Park, feeling the bar should be set higher for the Dublin City Council-funded groundshare between the Gypsies and Shelbourne.

"We must be more ambitious in how we think," he said. "I think that to be saying you can have it in 2025 (Dalymount should be finished before then) and you get a 6,000-seater and be ecstatic about that. For me... I find it quite deflating.

"There's a massive demand for a 12,000-seater for example, or a 15,000-seater or more. We need something in between the Aviva and the rest."

Kenny is thrilled by the excitement building around his U-21 group and it's a slight surprise that Mick McCarthy did not call on any of his stars in Sweden.

Bohemians left-full Darragh Leahy misses out on the Italy match and trip to Iceland, but otherwise he has a full hand with Southampton's Michael Obafemi seemingly available.

Aaron Connolly and Troy Parrott were named in the senior 41-man provisional squad but did not make the final list of 24 for Georgia and Switzerland.

That said, Kenny feels it is possible that Brighton's Connolly will be promoted to McCarthy's travelling party between now and next Monday if there are any injury issues.

A chat with McCarthy did not rule out that eventuality. Therefore, he will begin early preparations for the visit of a star-studded Italy team with a Plan A and Plan B in mind.

Complaining

"They are two hugely important fixtures in Georgia and Switzerland and I'm not complaining about that," said Kenny. "If it happens, it happens. That's the nature of my job.

"Aaron could be called up any time. He's made a lot of progress in a short space of time and he's done very well."

Connolly plays as a striker for Brighton, which is his preferred position, but he operates as a left winger for Ireland U-21s.

"He may not be involved in the seniors and he may be involved next week against Italy, which would be great to see," added Kenny.

The paying punters would agree with that.

Irish Independent

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