Thursday 23 November 2017

Kenny has form for guiding players to international stardom

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny:
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny: "There are a lot of players capable of stepping up." Photo: Sportsfile

Seán Ryan

There was a time when, if you wanted to check on the potential international talent coming through, you went to see the Irish Youths in action, or the Under 21s. Now, there is another option: check out Stephen Kenny's team.

Ever since his days in charge at Bohemians, 14 years ago, Kenny's graduates have sprinkled international squads from Ireland to the Ivory Coast. At present, he can boast a total of 11 of his former players who have stepped up to represent their countries, and there seem to be more on the way.

He is not a boastful person, so all he will admit to is: "I do ask my players to set higher standards for themselves." It seems to have done the trick, as two players from his Bohemians squads, eight from Derry City, and one from Dunfermline, advanced to play international football.

At the PFAI Awards in October, Ireland manager Martin O'Neill admitted he could have picked four of Kenny's Dundalk players in his squad, based on their form in European club competition this year. He has included goalkeeper Gary Rogers, defender Andy Boyle and winger Daryl Horgan in squads, and the indications are that one or more of them might get their chance in forthcoming friendly internationals.

Of course, it was originally felt that Richie Towell, last year's Player of the Year, would be the first of Kenny's Dundalk crop to be capped, but injury has held him back since his move to Brighton last January. "Yes, I always felt that Richie was capable of being capped," said Kenny. "He's still a good player, so I wouldn't rule him out."

However, it's the present team, who play AZ Alkmaar on Thursday in a vital Europa League tie in Tallaght (7.45), who earn the highest praise from Kenny. "This Dundalk group are a credit to themselves because there's a real culture of good practice among them, a wanting to get better, and it's never an issue for extra sessions," he said. "They all push each other, and Daryl Horgan is a prime example. He's a workaholic."

In that respect he must remind Kenny of another of his protégés: James McClean, hero of Ireland's win over Austria. Of him, Kenny said: "He has one thing that you can't put into anyone - an undeniable hunger to be the best possible player he can be. He made himself great. He practised and practised so much we had to stop him practising. In my time at Derry City, I had eight players who became internationals, and others who moved to English clubs, and of all of those he was the hardest working player I had."

Regarding O'Neill's suggestion that he could have chosen four Dundalk players, Kenny declared: "It's difficult to pick four because they are all doing great.

"There are a lot of players capable of stepping up. All the midfield players are good players - Stephen O'Donnell, Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan, Robbie Benson, Chris Shields - the full-backs Sean Gannon and Dane Massey have been very consistent, Andy Boyle is a terrific player, while Dave McMillan has had a good season. Daryl Horgan has had two unbelievable seasons, and I have high hopes for Patrick McEleney. For Ronan Finn, at 28, it can be difficult, but he shouldn't be ruled out.

"It's interesting, but we have to continue to prove ourselves, and we hope to do that in the next two European games. Hopefully we can have a strong finish to our group campaign and get into the knockout stages.

"We have two big games left - at home to Alkmaar on Thursday and away to Maccabi Tel-Aviv on December 8 - and we need two results. Two draws might do it, or we might need four points."

On the international issue, Kenny said, in conclusion: "It's a sad indictment that an Irishman can live in Ireland and get married and have children here, but he must go abroad if he wants to play for his country. The only way to get out of that cycle is to raise the standards here ourselves."

And, in that regard, Dundalk are certainly leading the way.

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