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'It’s a pretty straightforward answer, I 100 percent want the manager to stay'

Josh Cullen and Jason Knight have given Stephen Kenny their full support.

Josh Cullen speaks to the press.
Josh Cullen speaks to the press.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Nov 8th 2021, 8:02 PM

WITH ACTUAL QUALIFICATION for the World Cup dead by the second night of Ireland’s campaign, the chief drama of the last few months has hung on whether Stephen Kenny deserves a contract extension to include the Euro 2024.

At the moment his contract ends next July, two-thirds of the way through Ireland’s Nations League campaign and before ever the qualifiers for Euro 2024 get underway, the competition for which Kenny recently said he’s building.

The decision is expected to be made around the FAI boardroom table later this month, after the qualifier crescendo against Portugal and Luxembourg. 

So, should Kenny get his renewal?

“100 percent”, says Josh Cullen. “The progression that the team has shown over the last year or so, working together has been really enjoyable.

“I probably speak on behalf all of the lads that we’re fully behind the manager and believe in what he’s trying to do, we’re enjoying the style of football we’re playing and we’re starting to see the rewards results-wise, from the performances we’ve been putting in. For me, it’s a pretty straightforward answer, yeah 100 percent, I want the manager to stay.”  

Jason Knight, sitting beside Cullen, answered the same question. 

“I’d just echo what Josh said, absolutely the same. On a personal level as well, he’s given me my chance, obviously with the U21s and he’s brought me up and given me eight senior caps so far. I’m grateful for that and I want to see him continue and hopefully me continue underneath him.” 

Cullen and Knight are among the more successful stories in the Irish squad. The former took a chance by swapping West Ham for Anderlecht of Belgium, where he has become a key player under Vincent Kompany. He has played every minute of league action thus far this season, while making himself an integral part of Stephen Kenny’s midfield. 

“I’m working with the manager at Anderlecht daily”, says Cullen, “he’s been brilliant for me over the last year or so and obviously every time I’ve been able to meet up with the squad here with the manager and the coaches. I’m fortunate to be able to work with a lot of good managers and coaches.

“I learn off them daily and I’m someone that’s always trying to improve my game. Playing the amount of games I have over the last year has helped me implement what I’ve been working on in training and so forth in the games. It’s been enjoyable so far.” 

Knight, meanwhile, is only 20, but has already played 90 senior games for financially-stricken Derby County. 

“I think it’s progressing well”, says Knight. “I think I’m maturing a lot, obviously like you say it’s under a lot of pressure with certain stuff that’s going on back at Derby but I think it’s going to help me in the long run to mature as a player. Obviously I’m playing a lot of games which I’m really happy about.” 

Not that he considers himself the finished article. 

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“Yeah definitely”, he replied when asked if there is room for improvement in his game. “All aspects I suppose – scoring goals, getting more assists, that sort of side of the game – and obviously I can always improve technically and tactically as well and the gaffer here and at Derby is really great for that.”

While Cullen is central to Kenny’s team, Knight has spent longer on the fringes. He has only played once in the group so far – alongside Cullen in midfield for the torpid loss to Luxembourg – and missed the qualifiers in September through injury and the October game in Azerbaijan with illness.

fran-jovic-with-alan-browne-jason-knight-and-josh-cullen Cullen helps Knight to his feet during the March loss to Luxembourg. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Cullen can offer some inspiration on forcing his way into the team. 

“Josh has been excellent, ever since I came into the camp, he’s been really good for Ireland and performed at a really high level”, says Knight. “He’s someone I can look towards and say ‘If he can do that, I can get in there as well.’

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from FAI HQ Abbottstown

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