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Litany of questions regarding Irish management succession plan ensures suspicion and unease

John Delaney sees it as a ‘vision’ and a ‘pathway’ but there’s a degree of anxiety that’s impossible to shake.

THERE’S THAT FAMILIAR feeling when you settle in and watch a horror movie. You’re already on edge, kind of prepared for the fright but unsure of where, when or how it’s going to come.

And because you’re so aware, so prepared for the bad things to happen, studies have shown that when the scare does come, the effect is even worse. 

A few years ago, the academic Christian Grillon, who studies fear and anxiety at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, spoke about the topic. 

“If a startle-eliciting stimulus comes, then the startle will be much larger than in a non-anxious state,” Grillon told the Inverse website.

“In my lab, when I make subjects anxious and then I startle them, the startle reflex can be increased by 100 to 300 percent. At Halloween, when you are anxious and uncertain, loud sounds, flashes of light, or a touch on your back will make you jump more than normally.”

And so to the FAI’s well-documented announcement at the weekend. Mick McCarthy appointed Republic of Ireland manager but Stephen Kenny – installed as the new Under-21 boss – will then take over from him following the European Championships in 2020.

It’s okay to be nervous. Because the plan is more than a little strange.

Put frankly, if the organisation behind cultivating and implementing such a radical strategy had some form when it came to risk-taking, everything might be a little bit easier to buy into.

But, given the FAI’s track record, their traditionalism and innate ability for self-inflicted chaos, you can’t help but be suspicious and uneasy.

After all, there is no great think-tank here. There is no control centre where football decisions are teased out, broken down and forensically analysed. The level of research – by all accounts – extends to calling John Giles for advice.

But something like this appointment gives John Delaney an opportunity to use PowerPoint buzz words like ‘vision’ and ‘pathway’ and give the impression that he knows what he’s doing. But then he steps in front of a microphone and ruins the illusion. 

Mick McCarthy alongside John Delaney John Delaney sees the management succession plan as a 'vision'. Source: Gary Carr; ©INPHO/Gary Carr/INPHO

“He’ll be ready in 2020,” Delaney told Tony O’Donoghue on RTE, when quizzed on why Kenny wasn’t trusted with the senior role immediately.  

What he needs to do now is get into international football. He’s absolutely excited about going around Europe looking at different styles, looking at different players,” he continued, as if Kenny hadn’t been doing exactly that while bringing Dundalk to the Champions League play-offs and Europa League group stage.  

It was clear, going by the interview, that Delaney had one big answer prepared for any question relating to Kenny and the delay in putting him in charge of the senior side. He mentioned it a few times to O’Donoghue, like it was a revolutionary concept.

According to Delaney, the big reason why Kenny couldn’t be trusted with the main job right away is because he needed time to figure out the difference between club management and international management. The latter, Delaney carefully explained, meant that players weren’t available every single day. A manager’s time with them, believe it or not, was significantly less.

In many ways – particularly various people’s ability to spontaneously combust – Irish football has had quite a few Spinal Tap moments in the past. But as Delaney repeated himself to O’Donoghue, he effortlessly channeled Nigel Tufnel’s famous exchange with Marti DiBergi.      

“These go to eleven.”

There are so many questions. And, for the most part, they remain unanswered.

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At his unveiling on Sunday, McCarthy seemed resigned to a shoulder shrug to try and explain his feelings on the short-term arrangement. 

“I’ve accepted it and that’s the way it’s going to be,” was the definitive though hardly celebratory response. 

Robbie Keane is part of McCarthy’s coaching setup because he asked to be. It turned out that McCarthy admired the gumption shown by the ‘cheeky bollocks’ but surely it would have made sense to promote from within, given the eye-catching ability of figures like Colin O’Brien, Tom Mohan and Jim Crawford who have all put in the hard yards in recent years. 

“He’s the most capped, top goalscorer,” McCarthy said, explaining his decision. 

Terry Connor with Coach Robbie Keane Robbie Keane and Terry Connor will be part of Mick McCarthy's coaching setup. Source: Gary Carr; ©INPHO/Gary Carr/INPHO

“I think he will have a real affinity with the younger players. All these guys coming through, he’s their hero. I think that’s a real benefit for me. And he’ll be driving up and down the country looking at players and having his backside in the car, getting sick of watching teams and reporting to me and TC.”

But that’s not coaching. It’s really being a hype man. And it appears to be another opportunity lost.   

If, as Delaney stated, this is a vision and a pathway, then O’Brien, Mohan, Crawford and somebody like Lee Carsley – currently a hugely-respected assistant manager with the England Under-21s – needed to be part of the package. They represent the future.    

But, because of this odd succession plan, Kenny needed to be placated. So, he hasn’t just been handed the responsibility of the Under-21s but a wider remit that, in keeping with everything else, is oddly vague. Somewhere in the mix, Ruud Dokter’s job description has changed and he will contribute more to the senior squad, leaving Kenny taking on some of his former duties, including being a liaison of sorts for the likes of Crawford and O’Brien.   

“He’ll be responsible for all the underage men’s teams as well,” Delaney told O’Donoghue in a sweeping statement during that RTE interview.

But, again, that was just poorly worded. Ultimately, given that the direction has been so muddied, Kenny will have to feel out the role and learn what he can and can’t do. He had to be sold on the entire proposal and there seems to be such a lack of specifics that it may take him – and everyone else – some time to fully wrap their heads around it.  

One thing is for certain: Kenny won’t be in charge for the entirety of the U21 European Championship qualifying campaign, owing to him stepping into the senior role in August 2020.

Again, it just reeks of weird planning, an attitude of, ‘We’ll just figure something out at a later date’ and hardly in line with the grandiose ‘vision’ and ‘pathway’ spiel that Delaney been repeating. 

As a result, it’s very difficult to feel comfortable with any of this.

There’s a degree of anxiety that’s impossible to shake. In some quarters, there’s been an expression of intrigue and excitement and that makes it worse.

Like that scene in the horror film when the phone rings. You just know what’s about to happen next.  

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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