Stephen Kenny to take over as Ireland under-21 boss and replace Mick McCarthy after Euro 2020
THE FAI have taken the unprecedented step of appointing two people to become Ireland manager in the space of one week with Stephen Kenny agreeing a deal to take over from Mick McCarthy in 2020.
McCarthy will be unveiled as the replacement for Martin O'Neill tomorrow, but he will only be in charge for one campaign cycle with new U21 boss Kenny assuming control of the top job once the next Euros campaign draws to a close.
FAI chiefs had approached Dundalk manager Kenny about replacing Noel King as U21 supremo earlier this month, but the Dubliner said that he was only interested in the senior job.
Meanwhile, Abbotstown authorities had identified McCarthy as their preferred candidate to replace O'Neill - believing that the experienced manager was the right man to assume immediate control with a view to qualifying for the next Euros.
The Kenny camp believed that the 47-year-old would get the opportunity to convince the FAI hierarchy of his claims for the top job this weekend. Indeed, the experienced League of Ireland manager gave an interview on Friday morning explaining why he felt he was the right candidate for the gig.
However, the FAI agreed a deal in principle for McCarthy to take over on a two year deal. Initial reports suggested that was with the option of another two, but leading FAI officials went back to Kenny with the promise of a crack at the top job from 2020 onwards - with Kenny managing the U21 team in the meantime.
Kenny called a meeting of Dundalk staff on Saturday evening to let them know that he was leaving. The club's owners were informed earlier in the day that Kenny was exiting the post because the FAI had came back with a new offer which contained the guaranteed promotion.
It's understood that Kenny has already signed a deal to confirm the arrangement - with the FAI stating that they will make a joint senior team and U21 managerial announcement on Sunday afternoon. Some doubt lingers over the extent to which they will confirm the handover, but all parties are aware of the two stage process.
The news is a devastating blow to League of Ireland champions Dundalk who believed that McCarthy's coronation ensured that Kenny would be going nowhere - he had indicated that he was not interested in leaving for the U21 role. They had spoken with Kenny about pre-season preparations ahead of a big campaign where they will be seeded in the first stage of the Champions League.
But the plans for the future were thrown into disarray on Saturday by the sudden turn of events. Dundalk players learned of their manager's impending departure via social media.
Kenny galvanised Dundalk after taking control in the winter of 2012, winning four league titles in the space of six seasons in charge - with two of those (2015 & 2018) resulting in League and FAI Cup doubles. But the real headline act was their progression to the group stages of the Europa League in 2016 where they overcame budgetary limitations to compete with seasoned European operators. Kenny has spoken passionately about the ability of Irish players to compete technically with a higher grade of opponent, rallying against the stereotype that they would be unable to compete at that level.
Dundalk were taken over by American investors last winter and they viewed Kenny as an essential part of their plans to compete in Europe. They did believe they would lose their manager to a bigger job at some stage in the future, but the weekend's dramatic developments came well ahead of schedule and they will now embark on a recruitment process to identify his replacement.
Meanwhile, the shadow of Kenny will hang over McCarthy's unveiling tomorrow. The 59-year-old will be assisted by Terry Connor and Robbie Keane upon his return to the senior job, but they are only the first part of the succession plan to take over from Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.