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'For me, he certainly has the attributes to work outside of the League of Ireland and at international level as well'

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill praised the success of Stephen Kenny, who many see as a potential future Ireland boss.

Kenny celebrates winning the FAI Cup two weeks ago at the Aviva Stadium.
Kenny celebrates winning the FAI Cup two weeks ago at the Aviva Stadium.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

STEPHEN KENNY AND Michael O’Neill have a lot in common as football managers with both having tasted success in the League of Ireland, domestically and on the European stage, defying all expectations to bring Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers to unimaginable heights during each man’s tenure.

O’Neill led Rovers to back-to-back SSE Airtricity League titles in 2010 and 2011, before steering the Dublin club all the way to the group stages of the Europa League, where his side famously faced off against teams including Premier League giants Tottenham.

Since then the Portadown native has seamlessly made the transition from club football to international football, breaking even more expectations in charge of Northern Ireland by bringing the country to the knockout stages of the European Championships in France.

O’Neill is the perfect man to know what it takes to make the step up from League of Ireland football, to taking charge of an international team featuring Premier League footballers.

Stephen Kenny with his son Fionn Kenny pictured with his son Fionn after securing Dundalk's second double in four years. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s friendly between Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, he spoke glowingly about the achievements of Kenny with Dundalk over the last six years.

Securing four Premier Division titles in five years, two league and FAI Cup doubles in four years and leading the Louth club all the way to the Europa League — following in O’Neill’s Shamrock Rovers’ footsteps — the Dubliner is being highlighted as a serious candidate to one day take charge of the Irish senior international team.

You go from club football to international football, it’s difficult, because you don’t really know what to expect,” O’Neill explained speaking on Wednesday. “Even speaking to managers who have much more experience than me, they found a lot of difficulty coming into international football just because of the nature of the job.

“Club football dictates your schedule, the game’s are loaded and that affects how you can prepare your team — international football is much more different than that. I think the biggest thing that I found is that you’re stepping up to manage players of a much higher calibre.

Michael O'Neill surrounded by fans O'Neill's Shamrock Rovers side became the first ever Irish team to qualify for the Europa League in 2011. Source: James Crombie

“I was managing the likes of Steven Davis and Johnny Evans, Premier League players, having gone from managing players who just weren’t at that level at Shamrock Rovers.”

Critics of the idea that a League of Ireland manager like Stephen Kenny could take over a high-stakes job like the Ireland hot-seat have made the argument that commanding a dressing room filled with highly-paid Premier League footballers could prove a challenge.

Michael O’Neill, however, has shown that making the step-up can be possible, especially with a record of achieving consistent success not only on the domestic front, but also in Europe, with Dundalk also earning plaudits for their performances against European regulars like Zenit St Petersburg and AZ Alkmaar in 2016.

The Northern Ireland manager also pointed to the Dubliner’s ability to bounce back from career setbacks as a testament to his pedigree as a top-level manager. Kenny was appointed as O’Neill’s successor at Shamrock Rovers in 2012, but was fired half-way through his debut season in charge.

Kenny’s next job was to take over at Oriel Park, where he has led Dundalk from the brink of relegation to having ambitions to become the first ever Irish club to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.

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RJYOgRol Kenny and O'Neill both secured domestic and European success in the League of Ireland.

“I think it would be a challenge that Stephen would have to meet,” O’Neill said of managing a squad filled with high-calibre internationals.

I think he has done extremely well with Dundalk, it’s an amazing job that he’s done there with the success that they have had and the European run as well.

“He’s proven himself to be a top manager and he’s come back from disappointment as well, because obviously at Shamrock Rovers he didn’t get much of an opportunity — I think he was only six months in the job when it came to an end.

“I think the job he has done at Dundalk is phenomenal and, for me, he certainly has the attributes to work outside of the League of Ireland and at international level as well.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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