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Stephen Kenny on soccer: 'We've been treated like a minority sport'

The soon-to-be Ireland senior boss feels not enough funding has been afforded to football in the last 20 years

Stephen Kenny (file pic).
Stephen Kenny (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND U21 MANAGER Stephen Kenny has criticised the lack of government funding afforded to soccer in recent years.

Speaking on Virgin Media Sport Tonight on Virgin Media One, the coach, who is due to become Ireland senior boss later this year, feels that in comparison to other sports, soccer has not been supported to the degree it deserves.

“I am not privy to what happens at board level and the meetings and so forth,” he said. “I think that football is the most played sport in Ireland, 300,000, between young and adult players playing the game every week and that’s amazing really. I think one of the things that… it’s amazing when you think about it, when it came to the fore then, the crunch, for such a mass participation that the Government money was 2.9 million.

“I think it opens everyone’s eyes, to say in comparison to other sports over the last 20 years, we’ve been sort of… very much — even though we’re the biggest sport and the majority sport — we’ve been treated like a minority sport. I think that has been evident.”

The former Dundalk manager, however, is hopeful the FAI can recover after a tough few months involving a series of controversies and well-documented financial problems.

By all accounts, things are going better now. With the new independent directors there seems to be a real positive mood, that seems to help. Obviously my concerns are with the 200 employees at the FAI, with the hundreds of players and staff who are employed in our national league and I think it is a developing industry and I think it could be a brilliant industry in Ireland, one that could be — with the right investment and the right vision — could be a terrific industry. By all accounts there has been good progress made and that has to be a positive and hopefully there is more stability behind the scenes.”

While the outlook away from the pitch has been bleak, there has been some promising signs on the field. A number of young Irish players have been handed Premier League debuts in recent months, notably Troy Parrott.

The 17-year-old striker remains on the periphery of the Spurs team though, even with main striker Harry Kane out injured, and Kenny was asked whether the youngster should consider a loan move.

“When you look at players in Portugal and players in Holland, these great academies that they have and they blood them so young and you nearly feel that Troy at 17 is ready to play. You don’t want him held back and I think he is ready to go and play now. He is so mature for a 17-year-old, incredibly mature, but it is very difficult at the big clubs, it doesn’t happen at the big clubs. Give me an example of a young Irish player playing at a top 4 or 5 English club in the last 10 years. So it is very difficult.

Troy is an option for Spurs at the moment, because they have injuries in the centre forward areas. He is a proven goalscorer at every level, the jump to the first team is a big jump, they want to get to the Champions League so the stakes are very high for them. It’s hard and there is a balance somewhere there, so hopefully he gets game time, that’s all we can hope.”

Meanwhile, former Ireland boss Brian Kerr has backed the FAI’s appointment of three new independent directors.

“The appointment of three new directors and particularly the independent chairman Roy Barrett has been a very important achievement and appointment and I think that Roy will have a very strong influence, as will the other independent directors,” he said.

“Also I think the six, then became seven new directors have played a part in trying to get to a stage where we know how bad things are and trying to find a solution. And I think they are to be credited for that, they are all volunteers, they are good people who know the game, who have been involved in the game, but weren’t part of the previous regime with the exception of Donal Conway. I think the sooner the better he’s off the stage completely, because he was part of the 14-year era of disrepute I’d say, of mismanagement, of poor leadership and he was part of that and he stood idly by for too long. So I think he needs to be off the stage, the sooner the better, that the new directors get a foothold on things and get things moving towards the reforms we want to see happening.”

And would Kerr himself be interested in taking up a role within the association now that significant changes have been made?

“If and when the new directors are in place and particularly the independent directors and if and when it will happen that there will be a new CEO in place, if those people then decide that they want to come and talk to me about a possible role within football in Ireland or development of football and the FAI in the future, I’d certainly be willing to talk to them about that. I have to say it has been tough being on the outside for so long.

“It’s for other people to decide if I was to have any part in the future of the game”

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Paul Fennessy

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