Stephen Kenny and Ireland deserve more time and a lot of patience 

The Irish didn't claim a win in this international break. But John Roycroft thinks that the manager and his team showed enough that we need to give them more time to prove themselves.
Stephen Kenny and Ireland deserve more time and a lot of patience 

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match against Serbia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Picture:Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

THREE more games to add to Stephen Kenny's international portfolio, two good(ish), one bad(ish).

We still wait for a competitive win, and Kenny's record now extends to 16 matches played, made up of seven defeats, eight draws and that solitary friendly victory against Andorra.

Most football managers would be checking for the exits on that record. Yet, somehow, Kenny's role at the helm of the Irish senior international side is probably in a stronger position than when we went into the international break.

If we had only played Azerbaijan this week, and got the same result, I fear that we may have seen the end of Kenny's time in charge. But that drab result came in between two gutsy performances from the team that showed that there might be promise sticking with the 49-year-old Dubliner.

Ireland's John Egan and Adam Idah (left) appear dejected after the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match against Azerbaijan at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. 
Ireland's John Egan and Adam Idah (left) appear dejected after the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match against Azerbaijan at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. 

This week we saw a far more impassioned Stephen Kenny, eager to defend his plans and his record. We also heard that there was no serious belief that Ireland was going to qualify for this World Cup, but rather that Euro 2024 in Germany was the real target for qualification.

Fair enough. I imagine few of us had any serious belief we were going to qualify for this World Cup first time out. But maybe the plans and goals for 2024 might have been communicated to the fans and media earlier before we all got down on Kenny after the Luxembourg and Azerbaijan results.

The truth behind the malaise of Irish international football does not lie at the feet of Stephen Kenny. Years of incompetence from the association, the presumption that English clubs would continue to scout and roll out new Irish talent, and the almost criminal neglect of our own domestic game, have all contributed to the situation we are now in.

As nations like Iceland, Norway, and Finland have demonstrated, to get back to some semblance of where we believe we should be may take decades of investment and nurturing.

This is not technically the job of Kenny. His job is to qualify for international tournaments. Hence why so many people were upset at the results. Running an 'academy' may not be Kenny's job, but that's sadly where we are now. Our lack of talent and resources means he has to do many of the duties one would expect an academy should do. Kenny seems to be trying to develop from the ground up, like what he did as the U21 manager. This may explain why there are so many youngsters in the squad.

Of course, the doubts remain. A slightly above 6% winning average is dreadful. But the determination of the players to get back into the game against Serbia on Tuesday. The side's willingness to break their back in the cause and the reward of a point, in unlikely circumstances, seemed to filter into the crowd at the Aviva. The fan's own hunger to get something out of that game rebounded to the players so that by the end of the game there was the sensation that we had witnessed one of the great Irish soccer performances rather than a scrappy draw on the back of a deflected own goal.

But hey, I guess many a great thing grew out of less.

Ireland supporters after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match against Serbia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland supporters after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match against Serbia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

What's the alternative?

The signs are that this side has ambitions and abilities that have yet been tapped. Glimpses of their quality appeared in moments during the Portugal and Serbia games, not least in the spine of Bazunu, Egan, Duffy, Omobamidele, Browne, and Idah. Where we played the game as it should, even if playing it out of defence all the time was enough to induce coronaries all over the country.

And while the results didn't go our way, most would admit that even in defeat and draws, they were probably more enjoyable to watch than many of the games under Mick McCarthy (part two) and especially compared to Martin O'Neill and Giovanni Trapattoni.

Arguably, our talent is far weaker than what those managers had and what are the alternatives to Kenny anyway? Sam Allardyce and Neil Lennon, were suggested. Not what I'd see as improvements.

So what should we expect?

Not much really, for now. We have to take Kenny at his word that his plan is long-term. This World Cup is gone for us now and we must look to the future. Nevertheless, I think most of us want to see us do better against the weaker sides in our groups. Positive results against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in the next rounds would be welcome. We have already shown we have the heart for the games against the big boys.

Ireland's John Egan and Shane Duffy celebrate their equalising goal against Serbia on Tuesday. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Ireland's John Egan and Shane Duffy celebrate their equalising goal against Serbia on Tuesday. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The thing that gives me the most hope though was the last 20 minutes against Serbia. The players showed they were ready to play for themselves and more importantly, for Kenny. It would have been easy to drop the head and run out the game for the expected defeat. But instead, they dug deep got the draw, and but for the Serbian keeper saving Omobamidele's strike, a delightful win.

For that alone, we need to give Kenny more time. Hopefully, it will work out for all our sakes.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more