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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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'McCarthy represents an experienced pair of hands, with Kenny someone who believes Irish football can do better'

Both men are the bookies leading candidates to become the next Ireland manager, but how do they stack up?

Kenny and McCarthy are the bookies' favourites to take over from Martin O'Neill.
Kenny and McCarthy are the bookies' favourites to take over from Martin O'Neill.

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS THAT Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane had parted ways with the FAI has renewed a sense of excitement within Irish football, with the speculation surrounding their successors representing an unlit match which threatens to blow the national team thundering into 2019.

Where pessimism and a dull sense of lowering expectations followed in the aftermath of the country’s relegation in the Uefa Nations League — Ireland dropping to third seeds for the Euro 2020 draw — now a new buzz and hope lies in its wake. Hope of the unknown and hope of something new.

Just 31,000 fans showed up for last Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland. It is with that sense of dwindling public backing and fear of declining attendances that the FAI has been forced to make a switch, letting go of O’Neill and Keane after a dreary 2018 which brought with it one win in nine games.

Crystal Palace v Ipswich - Carabao Cup - Second Round - Selhurst Park McCarthy most recently spent six years in charge of Championship club Ipswich Town. Source: Andrew Matthews

Some time will be spent, appropriately, looking back on the highs of their tenure in charge. Despite recent poor form, there were more highlights during the O’Neill-Keane era than most managers actually enjoy: beating Germany, overcoming Bosnia, Wes’ goal against Sweden, Brady’s header versus Italy, the unanticipated away win in Vienna.

But after that short trip down memory lane, the focus quickly snaps into who their successors in the dugout at Lansdowne Road will be. Unlike the last time Ireland faced this situation with the firing of Giovanni Trapattoni, work begins almost immediately for whoever follows O’Neill.

Early next month in Dublin the draw for Euro 2020 qualifiers takes place. Not having a manager present for the draw will be a small embarrassment, meaning a swift appointment sooner, rather than later, will likely be the course of action.

Stephen Kenny Kenny has won two doubles in the last four years with Dundalk. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Two leading candidates are on everybody’s lips from supporters, to media, to ex-Ireland internationals: Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny. The bookies’ odds and sense of public trepidation does not equate to either man actually getting the job — but as things stand they are the two most likely suitors.

Some outside candidates including Sam Allardyce, Neil Lennon, Arsene Wenger, Lee Carsley and Brendan Rodgers would make good choices in their own right, but with important factors like availability, style of football, management experience and cost taken into account, McCarthy and Kenny lead the chasing pack. 

The obvious question as to whether either man actually wants the job remains up in the air and can only be answered, quashed, encouraged or beaten away by the men themselves, but following the news of O’Neill’s exit they are the undeniable frontrunners.

Kenny makes a strong argument and would be a bold choice

Year after year of delivering leagues and titles to the trophy cabinet up at Oriel Park has slowly but surely built the argument for Stephen Kenny to, one day, take over the biggest job in Irish football.

The Dubliner’s achievements in this country stack incredibly high: five league titles, three FAI Cups, six League Cups, one President’s Cup, two Leinster Senior Cups, one First Division title, five PFAI Manager of the Year awards.

His career centrepiece, however, being his Dundalk side making it all the way to the group stages of the Europa League in 2016. Becoming only the second ever Irish side to do so, the Lilywhites’ brave and impressive displays against European regulars like Zenit and AZ Alkmaar demonstrated an ability to take teams on and not simply put men behind the ball in search of avoiding defeat.

His Dundalk team have played with an attractive, relentless, attacking style over the course of the last six years which has earned plaudits from Eamonn Dunphy, to Michael O’Neill, all the way to Roy Keane.

Martin O'Neill during the National Anthems Martin O'Neill brought Ireland to the Euros in 2016 and to a World Cup play-off last year. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kenny defies the mould of what is normally expected from an Irish manager, insisting that players born in this country are able to play with the ball at their feet if only coaches have faith in them to do so.

When asked if Irish football inherently resorted to a long-ball style, having been so successful under Jack Charlton in the 1990s, Kenny responded: “They think that suits us, that it’s in our DNA in Irish football. And I find that offensive, I really can’t stomach that idea. I can’t tell you how much I really dislike it.”

Arguments in favour of Kenny taking over as Irish manager to succeed O’Neill point to his philosophy that Irish football can do much better, his promotion of the League of Ireland as a way to develop the national team’s future stars, and his impressive track record in Europe against elite opposition.

Those opposed will say that the job is simply too big, pointing to his lack of experience outside of Irish football and at his setbacks in Scotland, where he was dismissed after a year in charge at Dunfermline.

McCarthy has been here before and knows what it takes

Mick McCarthy had a sour end to his time in charge of Ipswich Town, but with the side now smack bottom of the Championship table, it seems like a large sway of the club’s supporters didn’t appreciate their manager until he was gone and it was too late.

He knows exactly what the Ireland job requires, having led the national team for six years between 1996 and 2002. McCarthy oversaw a golden generation of Irish players which included Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Roy Keane and Shay Given, succeeding in making it to the knockout stages of the World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

McCarthy ticks a lot of boxes for those in FAI headquarters today: he is available, does not require an expensive buyout, knows the role inside and out, and has expressed a desire to return to management despite a sad end to his time at Portman Road.

The 59-year-old endured a difficult end to his time in charge of Ireland the last time around, playing a role in Roy Keane’s departure in Saipan, but despite enduring a difficult relationship with John Delaney back then, there does not appear to be an issue with the FAI any longer.

dXQqzemU Both men have been tipped as potential successors for the top job at Lansdowne Road.

Former players like Tony Cascarino have backed McCarthy for the Ireland job. “I think Mick is ready for international management again,” he said. 

“I think he handles himself brilliantly well in front of the public, the media and the federation, and I think his experience of being there before is something we need quite urgently at the moment.”

Arguments in favour of McCarthy would point to the success he enjoyed during his first tenure in charge, his wealth of experience in international, Championship and Premier League football and his current availability.

Those who would veer against the former Wolves boss would outline that Irish football requires a fresh approach with new ideas, rather than returning to what worked in the past under different circumstances.

For some McCarthy represents a safe pair of hands, a proven track record and a short-term fix ahead of Euro 2020. While for others Kenny represents a manager who believes Irish football can do so much better and not sell itself short.

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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