Rookie bosses ready for European test
With the departure of legendary managers Stephen Kenny and John Caulfield from the League of Ireland scene, there is a sudden, inexperienced look about the managerial cohort leading Irish clubs into European action this week.
Shamrock Rovers' Stephen Bradley is the most experienced, and he has only three campaigns to his credit, although his record of won two, drawn two and lost three augurs well for the future.
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None of his three contemporaries - Vinny Perth (Dundalk), John Cotter (Cork City) or Harry Kenny (St Patrick's Athletic) - have been in charge before in Europe, so this week represents a plunge into the unknown for all three and their clubs.
Kenny says: "It's a great experience, with different preparation and a different type of football. It's a two-legged affair, there's the travel involved, the importance of getting something from the first leg, and of sending someone to have a look at the opposition.
"We know that they (IFK Norrkoping) have a few internationals, and also feature Henrik Larsson's son. Our analyst, Martin Doyle, has been putting stuff together on them. They are seasoned European campaigners. It's a tough tie."
While acknowledging that Norrkoping will be favourites, Kenny remains upbeat about his team's prospects. "A decent result in Richmond Park on Thursday, and it's all to play for in their place," he asserts. "That's the way you have to look at it."
When Kenny took over this season, the revolving door came into play, with nine players going out and another nine coming in. "We have a decent squad now, but the results have been up and down. Despite the huge turnaround in personnel, we don't have a huge squad so we're not into much rotation of players. Whoever is in form will be selected.
"The age profile has come right down, with some of our veterans moving on and being replaced by players like Jake Walker, who is only 18. He's got a great eye for a goal, so I'm expecting a lot more from him."
However, it's the enigmatic form of fan-favourite Chris Forrester which is foremost in Kenny's thoughts. "He's a terrific talent, and we haven't seen the best of him," he asserts. "He has worked very hard to get back to fitness, played well against UCD and maybe the Monday game against Shamrock Rovers was a bridge too far in three days."
He remains hopeful that Forrester will turn in a good second half of the season, and what better place to start than in a Europa League game, which could determine the success or failure of the season, from a St Pat's point of view.
Shamrock Rovers, too, will be pinning their hopes on a returned exile, midfielder Jack Byrne, to display his magic against SK Brann of Norway. Byrne's movement and shooting have been impressive, and he is likely to cause the home side problems on Thursday, with the likelihood of a full house for the second leg in Tallaght on Thursday week.
Cork City will be glad of a break from their disappointing domestic campaign when they welcome Luxembourg's Progres Niederkorn to Turners Cross on Thursday.
There is plenty of European experience in this Cork side, so a home win can't be ruled out and, provided they keep a clean sheet, that could set up the enticing prospect of a visit from Rangers in the next round.
First out of the blocks in European action, though, are champions Dundalk, who will be hoping to set the other Irish clubs a good example when they welcome Riga to Oriel Park on Wednesday.
With a new manager in Perth, who hasn't put a foot wrong since taking over from Stephen Kenny, they are in rude health and it will be a minor shock if they don't dispose of the Latvian side.
Sunday Indo Sport