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'I want teams across the nation to see the senior Irish team and say, 'That's the way we want to play'

Stephen Kenny was unveiled as Irish senior manager this afternoon, and spoke about the players he rates, his style of play, and why he didn’t get a chance to inform Robbie Keane of his non-inclusion in the backroom team.

STEPHEN KENNY SAYS he wants his Irish teams to play in a style that is thrived for and replicated at all levels of football in Ireland. 

stephen-kenny Stephen Kenny, file photo. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Speaking on a Microsoft Teams call with journalists at a virtual unveiling press conference this afternoon, Kenny set out his vision for the senior international job following his early ascension to the role from the U21s. 

“I’ve only got one chance, it’s a short life. I’ve only got one opportunity here. I will ensure that I have conviction in the way we set up the team. The ambition will be to dominate possession in a lot of the games, we can’t promise we’ll always achieve that, but I want people to come to the Aviva Stadium and look forward to going and watching this team.

“Ideally I would want every schoolboy team looking at the senior international team and thinking ‘That’s how we want to play’. That’s what I would want.”

While Kenny hailed the quality of players coming through the underage ranks, he also reserved praise for senior players, picking out John Egan and Robbie Brady unprompted. 

There is a good group coming through, we are not relying on one or two individuals. I think we have a lot of quality in our senior squad, also. Our back four have been very consistent, and I think the addition of John Egan changes the dynamic of the back four. Rather than have two, traditional number fives – that changes everything really, in terms of how you play. That gives you a great platform to go and build the rest. We have a lot of talented players. It’s difficult to know why, for example, three years ago, someone like Robbie Brady was probably our most creative player and recently, at times, hasn’t got into the 22 [matchday squad].

“How has that happened? My job is to try and unlock the potential of the whole team and find the best way of doing that. That’s how I see my job. I’m really excited about it, and hugely honoured to be given the opportunity to do that.”

While Mick McCarthy decided the first hour of his first game in charge last year was evidence that Seamus Coleman and Matt Doherty can’t play together down the same flank, Kenny said he doesn’t see himself being confined to picking only one of those players. 

“It’s not a Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman battle, because Matt Doherty can play left-back, right-back, and has played in advanced positions as well.”

Keith Andrews will step up to serve as Kenny’s assistant at senior level, and Damien Duff has been added as a number three. While goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly has been retained from McCarthy’s staff, Robbie Keane has not, in spite of Keane’s having two years to run on his contract with the FAI. 

“I have the height of respect for Robbie Keane, what he has achieved in his career is incredible”, said Kenny. “We don’t know each other that well, but any time we have had conversations with each other we’ve got on fine, we’ve got on very well. As the manager, you must have the right to pick your own backroom team, and it’s important there aren’t blurred lines in the roles; clearly defined roles are important.

“That’s what I’ve learned from my own personal experience. Keith Andrews has been my assistant for the last year and a half and we have developed a strong relationship and a good rapport and way of working together.

” I’ve obviously watched Damien’s coaching career, but at Celtic he has played a pivotal role in terms of a potential treble for them. 

“That’s about selecting my own team, who will complement each other.”

Kenny confirmed he did not inform Keane directly of his decision, saying, “it all happened pretty quickly last weekend as you can imagine, only late on Friday. I would have preferred to have a conversation with him, but the circumstances weren’t right to do that.” 

robbie-keane Robbie Keane on the Irish bench during last year's international friendly with New Zealand. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

When asked why circumstances weren’t right, Kenny said “there were complex contractual issues in relation to that.”

That players are playing regularly at club level was an oft-cited selection principle of McCarthy’s – one, in fairness, that was not practiced quite as often as it was preached – and while Kenny, says frequent game-time for players at club level is important, it won’t dictate his selections. 

“I don’t want to manage the Irish team based on a mathematical table based on who’s got a number of appearances for a certain club and therefore they should be in the team over someone who has fewer appearances for a different club. I don’t want to manage like that. I want to have a clear vision of what I want, and what players fit in to what I want.

“It’s not a mathematical equation – you have to base it on your judgement and instinct and what you see with your eyes.

“That’s really it. These are personal decisions in the end.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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