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FAI boss Hill gives Stephen Kenny little public assurance over the security of his position

There were calls for the FAI to come out and clarify Stephen Kenny’s position in the wake of this week’s speculation, and the message was: a decision will be made in November.

Stephen Kenny and Jonathan Hill, pictured at a Bohemians Conference League tie in July.
Stephen Kenny and Jonathan Hill, pictured at a Bohemians Conference League tie in July.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE FAI HAVE split the shirt sponsorship deals for the men and women’s international teams for the first time, but as they announced the latter’s deal yesterday, they couldn’t escape the ongoing drama of the men’s team. 

The latest act centres on Stephen Kenny’s position, with CEO Jonathan Hill not exactly giving the manager his full backing when asked to do so. 

There were calls for the FAI to speak on the record after days of speculation, and Hill duly came out and did so. It was, overall, an act in the art of As You Were: Kenny’s position will be reviewed by the board at the end of the qualification campaign in November. 

“We will review the whole World Cup qualification campaign in the same way in November at the same board meeting”, Hill told a group of journalists, stressing the decision would be made in a “calm and collective way.” 

“There is a really open process there so everyone will be able to give their view. This isn’t about one person. It isn’t the view of one person, it is the view of 12 men and women”, said Hill of how the board will make the call. 

FAI Chairperson Roy Barrett said in March that there would be a range of factors taken into account when reviewing Kenny’s position, and Hill was asked whether the attendances at the Aviva Stadium for the remaining home games – a friendly with Qatar and friendly with Portugal – would have an influence on decision-making. 

“You have commented on and you have experienced the crowd at the Aviva on Tuesday evening against Serbia”, said Hill. “I thought their overall contribution to the game and to the spectacle was astonishing. I thought it was really very, very positive and I don’t think there was anyone who was there who saw the depth of feeling and passion of that crowd that they were absolutely willing the team on to win.

“There is no reason why that shouldn’t be replicated for the rest of games we have in 2021 and beyond. That is part and parcel of the uniqueness of the Irish national team football.” 

Hill was also asked whether Kenny’s statement that he has made a decision to build a team for Euro 2024 qualifying was news to him. Here he offered more support.

“No, no. We’ve talked about a medium to longer term plan as we have talked about a medium to longer term plan in the context of the creation of our strategic vision. 

“Those of you listening during the AGM and those of you who have looked at the document we presented on the day saw that our pathway for international success is part of that strategic vision. That strategic vision is four years. It is a medium term one. I don’t think it is unusual for any manager to be looking at the development of his team.

“He has a contract, we know he has a contract now until July 2022. I am not uncomfortable with him talking about where he sees a young group of players going.”

jonathan-hill FAI CEO Jonathan Hill at the announcement of Sky's sponsorship deal with the Irish women's team. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Hill has mastered the corporate tongue of talking a lot without saying much. 

What was the target for this World Cup campaign? 

 ”The overall expectation and view was for us to be as competitive as we could be in each of those individual games.”

The team has two points in five games so far in this qualifying campaign, it’s not been good in the last 12 months? 

Asked to agree that results in the qualification group haven’t been great, he said, “There has been a range of performances and there has been a range of results. That is the reality of the process thus far. Everyone knows that. They have seen what has happened. As I say, we will review and we will address as we go on. 

“But I say again: we start every game in the hope and expectation of winning.” 

Do you feel progress has been made since the defeat to Luxembourg? 

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“Look, as I say in relation to the games in September, we have had a range of performances and a range of results. I don’t think anyone who was in Faro and saw the performance against Portugal who wouldn’t feel that it was a very strong performance.”

Probably his most pointed intervention came when he wasn’t asked a question.

At the press conference announcing Sky as the new shirt sponsor of the Irish women’s team, a journalist in the room evoked Kenny’s ‘Germany 2024′ comments by asking manager Vera Pauw was asked by a journalist present whether she was planning to use the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign as a “dry run” for the Euros in 2025. She said no, and then Hill interjected. 

“It’s no different for Vera or any of our international teams, be it senior teams or underage teams, every game we play we want to win. In the same way I would hope everybody in this room, the media and the general public, want Irish teams to win when they play.

“That is a very simple sporting objective, and it hasn’t changed this week or last week, and won’t change as we move forward.”

An underreported part of Kenny’s comments was the fact he followed them up by saying, “we didn’t not try to win the games”, perhaps it’s this to which Hill referred. 

The search for a sponsor for the men’s team, meanwhile, is ongoing. Sky initially explored the idea, but stuck with the women’s side only. Hill said their spitting of the teams did not reflect the difficulty in getting a sponsor onside for the men’s team, but was actually testament to the strength of the offer from Sky. 

Sky’s is a four-year deal, but neither they nor the FAI divulged its value. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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