IT WAS peculiar for a manager who has won just three games from 18 under his stewardship (three out of 19 after the Portugal game), only one of which was competitive, to lay out his vision for the future. One would imagine a record like that would see the manager focus his attention on day-to-day issues rather than outline his plans for a competition nearly a year later.
But that seems to be the lay of the land for Irish boss Stephen Kenny, that with two matches remaining and with Ireland second last in our World Cup qualifying group, the manager positioned himself to be still in the job after his current contract has ended.
"One of the things that we are looking at doing is winning the Nations League in June,” said Kenny of a competition that ends next September, two months after his current contract expires. “Myself and my assistant Keith Andrews sat down about that long ago. I reckon that if we apply ourselves and continue to improve and players get more exposure, we can strive to do that."
It was an idea that appears to be bought into by the players too. At the midweek press conferences, Irish players Josh Cullen and Jason Knight took it upon themselves to, "speak on behalf of all the lads" that they were fully behind the manager. Cullen went on to say, "For me, it’s a pretty straightforward answer… yeah 100% I want the manager to stay.
After the Portugal draw on Thursday night, Shane Duffy went even further by saying, "It's obvious that we love playing for him [Kenny], we are all fighting for him."
The feel-good factor gained from back-to-back victories, albeit against Azerbaijan and Qatar, and the draw against Portugal, seems to have emboldened management, who are now quick to point to the light at the end of the tunnel as evidence that things are improving. It also seems to position themselves beyond the vagaries of immediate results and any snap decisions to end the Kenny tenure by the FAI.
In line with procedures, the FAI would routinely run their eye over the manager's most recent qualification campaign soon as it ends. So one suspects that straight after the game against Luxembourg tomorrow night, that the FAI CEO Jonathan Hill and his team would review Kenny's 18-months in charge ahead of starting any new campaign. In usual circumstances, Kenny's record would see the Dubliner get his P45, as they used to say.
One might wonder if these public statements of confidence, (in the future by management and in management by the players) was a bold attempt by Kenny & Co to position themselves beyond the decision-making process of the governing body, using the genuine sympathy most Irish football fans still have for Kenny, mixed with the uptick in confidence by recent adequate results to make any adverse decision by the FAI against the current setup look harsh and unpalatable to the taste of public opinion.
The result against Portugal will certainly lend support to keeping Kenny in the job. A draw against one of the top 10 footballing nations is always an achievement, even if it was clear that this Portugal side's mind was already in Lisbon tomorrow night rather than on the job in hand at the Aviva on Thursday.
So it is now all set up for tomorrow evening's game at the Stade de Luxembourg to be a lot more important than your regular dead-rubber tie would be. Victory in the Duchy will no doubt secure the immediate and maybe even the long-term future of Kenny. Defeat, one would think, might force the FAI down a route to look for an alternative to the Dubliner. But that was before the public outpouring of love for the boss by the players.