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7 takeaways from Stephen Kenny's unveiling as Irish manager

What Kenny has already achieved, why Robbie Keane won’t be involved, why there’s good news for Robbie Brady, and a change in selection policy.

Stephen Kenny.
Stephen Kenny.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY BEGAN his unveiling as Irish manager by wondering aloud whether he should be unveiled as Irish manager.

“There are more important things in the world right now. Whether it right to do interviews and press conferences at this time, there is a moral dilemma there, but I do think people need something to look forward to…” 

It went ahead nonetheless. 

While Steve Staunton had the Mansion House, Giovanni Trapattoni the RDS and Martin O’Neill the Gibson Hotel, Kenny was unveiled on a Microsoft Teams call from his home, answering questions from journalists’ bedrooms. 

Hey, he was always likely to do the job differently. 

Here are a few takeaways from Stephen Kenny’s first press duty in the top job.

His rhetoric has already achieved something 

A procession of Irish senior managers have paid far more heed to the ends than the means, given it was their brief to qualify for the next major tournament and release the latest financial burden from the FAI’s slumping shoulders. 

This wasn’t always the fault of the managers, to be honest, as they were well-paid to follow the orders from above. This time, however, the senior job has not been outsourced to an expensive contractor in Britain, and Kenny has already cast the senior international team as being at the peak of all other levels of the game in Ireland rather than separate to it. 

“I’ve only got one opportunity here”, said Kenny. 

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.”

Kenny has lots to prove, but he has already achieved something by jump-starting the dismal rhetoric around Irish football. 

Contrast this to John Delaney’s final media engagement as FAI CEO just 14 months ago, when the FAI were selling long-term premium tickets for games under Kenny’s watch. 

“If you buy your 10-year ticket you are guaranteeing your seat at Ireland home games, and you are contributing to money that will go back into the game at grassroots level. And servicing the debt as well.” 

“Service the debt for the Boys in Green” was never likely to take off, to be honest. 

He’s not so Keane on Robbie 

Robbie Keane was, for reasons known to Delaney and the old FAI board, given a longer contract than McCarthy, and so may have been given the impression his pathway to the manager’s job had been laid out for him, given the old board’s then-established regard for succession planning. 

Kenny, however, has picked his own staff. 

“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.”

While he has formed a strong relationship with Keith Andrews from their time together with the U21s and he has been impressed by Damien Duff’s diligence and influence at Celtic, Keane didn’t fit the profile. 

While Kenny said he has huge respect for Keane and has never had a bad interaction with him, the new manager curiously didn’t get the chance to inform him directly that he wasn’t in his plans. 

“I would have preferred to have a conversation with him, but the circumstances weren’t right to do that”, said Kenny. The circumstances, he said, were due to “complex contractual issues.”  

His appointment is good news for John Egan, Robbie Brady, and Matt Doherty 

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john-egan-dejected-at-the-final-whistle John Egan, after last year's draw in Georgia. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Kenny was invited to heap praise on his U21 side, and while he did so, he then brought up a few established senior internationals unprompted. John Egan’s quality on the ball, he said, “changed the dynamic” of the entire team, and he also mentioned Robbie Brady’s loss of form since Euro 2016 as something he aims to address. 

As for Matt Doherty, Kenny says he doesn’t see him solely in direct competition with Coleman, citing the fact Doherty can play at left-back and further forward. 

“Matt Doherty only has two competitive starts for Ireland and John Egan has two and a half because he came off against Denmark”, said Kenny. “It’s hard to fathom that because John Egan went for four million to Sheffield United from Brentford, and in my eyes, he was ready then.

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

Regular game time at club level will play less of a role in team selection 

That players had to play regularly at club level was an oft-cited principle of Mick McCarthy’s selections, although, in reality, it was preached more than practiced. 

While it was often used as justification to exclude players, McCarthy had no issue staying loyal to the likes of Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan, and Shane Duffy when they were either uninvolved at club level or returning from injury. 

Kenny says games at club level will play a role in his selection, but it won’t be the only thing he considers. 

“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. 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.”

seamus-coleman Seamus Coleman. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He has yet to speak with most of his players 

Kenny has only made contact with one of his senior internationals thus far – captain Seamus Coleman. “One thing I try to do is to treat everyone equally, it’s important. I don’t want to be ringing some players and not others. That will all come in due time. I spoke to Seamus as captain, and Seamus alerted players that I’ve been in touch and we’ll be in touch in due course.” 

The League of Ireland may be in line for further representation

A League of Ireland-based player hasn’t played a competitive senior international for Ireland since 1985, and Kenny’s ascension to the job augurs well for the end of that stat. 

While he hinted that the domestic players with experience in the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers have an advantage, his main criteria for squad selection is the fact there is no strict criteria. 

I don’t discriminate against anyone, no matter where they’re playing, and we’ve seen a really high standard of a game between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers recently in Tallaght. I think everyone will be judged on their own individual merits. You want players playing at the highest possible level, but, at the same time, there are players who can emerge and you can’t dismiss that.

He has learned from his experience as U21s boss 

While Kenny would likely have preferred to succeed Martin O’Neill rather than Mick McCarthy, he says he has learned from his first experience of international football at U21 level. 

It taught him how to manage a 10-day camp, he says, and the Toulon tournament taught him how best to prepare for a tournament…the latter an experience he will hopefully have the chance to put into use once the Euros belatedly roll around. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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