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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Evan Treacy/INPHO Stephen Kenny at Abbottstown today.
# Stephen Kenny
'To go back to where Ireland started in their first Euros, if it's back to Stuttgart or wherever it is - that's the big dream'
Stephen Kenny today set out his stall having finally signed a contract extension with the FAI.

STEPHEN KENNY SAYS he wants to take Ireland back to where it all began, and qualify once again for a European Championships held in Germany. 

Kenny yesterday signed a contract extension to include the Euro 2024 campaign – it will end when Ireland’s interest in the competition ends – and today he met the media alongside CEO Jonathan Hill. 

Ireland’s first major tournament was Euro ’88 under Jack Charlton and Kenny is hoping his evolution of the team and its style can ultimately lead back to where it all began. 

“The ambition is to go to Germany and qualify for the European Championships. I realise that’s the big ambition, the big dream. To go back to where Ireland started in their first ever European Championships, if it’s back to Stuttgart or wherever it is, that’s the big dream.

“No stone will be left unturned in attempting to do that. We have to do everything we can to try and get there with this team, with players at different stages of their careers, some it’s maybe their last opportunity to get to a European Championships and some have their whole careers ahead of them. That’s the big ambition: to qualify for the European Championships.” 

Whereas Euro 88 was an eight-team competition, this next Euros is a 24-team edition, for which qualifying begins next year. This year will feature friendlies – beginning with Belgium and Lithuania later this month – and then the Nations League campaign, the schedule for which is shrouded in uncertainty given the involvement of Ukraine and Scotland, whose World Cup play-off has been postponed and will likely be refixed for early June, a time when Ireland are meant to be playing both. 

jonathan-hill Evan Treacy / INPHO Jonathan Hill glances at Stephen Kenny during today's press event. Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

CEO Hill said the FAI will be as “flexible and supportive as we can be” in relation to the rescheduling. 

Kenny has signed contract renewals along with his backroom team of Keith Andrews, Dean Kiely, Stephen Rice and Damien Doyle, though there is one position still to be filled following the exit of Anthony Barry to Belgium. Kenny offered no clues as to his replacement, but did say a replacement may be found by the time the Belgium game comes around on 26 March. 

Kenny also denied claims the delay in sealing the deal on his contract renewal contributed to Barry’s decision to leave. 

“I think it’s probably not accurate, he made his decision to go to Belgium and we respect his decision. It’s a professional decision, so we respect that and that’s it.

“I’ve a great relationship with Anthony, it’s not unusual in international football. Look at Northern Ireland, Scotland, England: all their assistants have moved over in the last 18 months, two years. It’s not unusual in international football.” 

Given the FAI board sanctioned the contract extension in December and it was only signed this week, why the delay? 

“It’s only a minor delay, really, from Christmas to March, we’re here now, it’s signed”, said Kenny. “It’s not just myself, we’ve a whole backroom team that we’ve got to address and so forth. We are delighted, this is a good thing, we’re not looking back saying why did this take three months rather than a month. A lot of things have to be managed in a big organisation like this so I think it’s irrelevant really. The only thing that matters is it’s signed now and we can move forward.” 

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CEO Hill added that it was due to the “general toing and froing of a negotiation”, adding that “we feel we did it in a reasonable time and the most important thing is we got the right contract and the right parameters to move forward.” 

Elsewhere, there may not be too many new faces in the squad to be named next week, given what Kenny said when reflecting on his achievements thus far. “We’ve rebuilt the team so we’re not looking forward to overly-experiment any more. We know what we have now.” 

And when Hill was asked about a separate issue on the state of facilities of the League of Ireland, Kenny volunteered his own, interesting contribution. 

“I think we’re gone beyond the issue: there is no ‘League of Ireland fans’ and ‘non League of Ireland fans’, what we have starting to emerge in Ireland now is football fans. People who love the game at all levels. People can follow teams passionately in Ireland and simultaneously in other countries if they want to do that and that’s not an issue.

“We’re seeing that, people from grassroots and League of Ireland with 18,000 tickets being sold for the games and season tickets. Hopefully even more, hopefully we can get as many sellouts during the year. I was in Inchicore on Friday, there have been some full houses, and that’s great. You’re right, the facilities are not good enough, no where near good enough.

“And if the facilities were better, you feel we’d get more supporters and have a better league. It is all linked to finances and better crowds and keeping the best players, that’s all part of it.”

Hill, meanwhile, made a more obvious demarcation between Ireland and the rest of the football world, introducing Kenny at the top of the press conference by declaring, “I do firmly believe that it’s really important that we continue to have an Irishman at the top of our Irish coaching system. It’s something I believe is really important for the Irish football community and the wider Irish public to see and hopefully to celebrate.”

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