After 25 games in charge the time is right to review Stephen Kenny's rein as Ireland manager

The statistics show his record is the worst of any Irish manager in recent times, but there is more to the story than this stat.
After 25 games in charge the time is right to review Stephen Kenny's rein as Ireland manager

Ireland’s Alan Browne scores his sides opening goal past goalkeeper Craig Gordon of Scotland

LET me start this piece by saying I was a believer in the Stephen Kenny project from his initial appointment as Ireland senior manager in April 2020.

I felt he was the right man for the job. I still felt he was the right man for the job when he got his contract renewed only recently until the end of June 2024.

When he was appointed evolution was needed and I felt he had the knowledge of the Irish underage scene, knew the players on the brink of breaking into the senior team, and had first-hand knowledge of their abilities from his time as U21 manager.

I knew Ireland had to change their style, change the way they played, change the formation, introduce new, younger players and make Ireland a team that can keep the ball more, pass it through the thirds more, be more creative, and be more adventurous.

Yes, I accept senior international football management is a different game. 

Liverpool teammates Scotland’s Andrew Robertson and goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher of Ireland shake hands ahead of the game
Liverpool teammates Scotland’s Andrew Robertson and goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher of Ireland shake hands ahead of the game

Yes, I accept Kenny had very little experience at the top table of international soccer and yes, I was aware of how little quality we possessed in terms of senior players playing regularly in the best leagues in Europe, but I still felt this was the right appointment and he deserved his chance and time.

Afterall, the previous more experienced managers, Mick McCarthy, Martin O’Neill and the rest who had persisted with the tried and trusted, hadn’t raised the bar by much if at all.

So, how much worse could 50 year-old Kenny have done?

That is still the $64,000 question now regardless of Saturday’s fantastic result against the Scots in the Nations League which saw Ireland beat a team ranked higher than them in the FIFA rankings since Bosnia in a Euro play-off in 2015.

The game against Scotland was Kenny’s 25th game as senior manager.

The perfect time to review his tenure, but you must remember how his regime started with Covid, empty stadia and injuries ruining every squad announcement and performance from the players.

Prior to Saturday’s game Kenny had won just five, drew nine and lost 10 times.

In those 24 games Ireland had scored 24 goals.

Centre half Shane Duffy (2), Ogbene (2) and Callum Robinson (3) were the only players to have scored more than once in 18 competitive games under Kenny.

John Egan and Alan Browne plus an own-goal were the others to hit the back of the net in competitive games.

Republic of Ireland's John Egan during the UEFA Nations League match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture date: Saturday June 11, 2022. 
Republic of Ireland's John Egan during the UEFA Nations League match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture date: Saturday June 11, 2022. 

Prior to the Scotland game Kenny had zero wins, three draws and five losses in the Nations League from eight games with one goal scored.

In 17 previous competitive games under Kenny Ireland won two, drew six and lost nine, scoring 12 goals.

In those games he did give senior competitive debuts to 17 players and three of these were from Cork, Caoimhin Kelleher, Adam Idah and Chiedozie Ogbene.

His first game in charge was a 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria with Shane Duffy heading a last gasp equaliser.

Kenny’s first win came against Andorra 4-1 at his 12th attempt.

Since his took the reins Ireland have lost to Finland, Slovakia, England, Wales, Serbia, Luxembourg, Armenia and Ukraine.

Prior to today Ireland were one of a few countries still to register a win a game in this tournament after two editions and 12 games.

This Scotland game was our 13th in this tournament and that statistic is now confined to the bin.

Kenny now has won six, drew nine and lost 10 times from 25 games.

In 25 games now Ireland have scored 27 goals.

Yet, the stats don’t make great reading for Stephen Kenny. 

In fact he is Ireland’s worst manager ever based on results after 25 games.

Ireland play Ukraine again on Tuesday. 

This time we may get to see more of their first team players on show. 

Republic of Ireland's Michael Obafemi (centre) scores their side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Nations League match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Republic of Ireland's Michael Obafemi (centre) scores their side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Nations League match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.

We struggled against their B team last week, losing one nil, so you would have to be fearful heading to Lodz in Poland of how this game will pan out.

Just over two weeks ago Kenny came into this two week period where Ireland had four games to play in confident, bullish form. 

This was a tournament he wanted to win and felt Ireland had a great chance of doing well and challenge for promotion to League A of the Nations League.

Now, based on statistics we have to ask despite the result against the Scots are we better suited to League C where we would get to play teams like our old friends like Georgia, Estonia, North Macedonia?

Kenny’s contract runs until the end of June 2024. The question is now this. 

Will he be given the time to get Ireland back on track and challenging teams to reach qualification for major tournaments?

I would give it to him.  You can see what he is trying to do with the team.  I still believe.

But international football is all about results and if you judge Kenny on results alone, he deserves to be sacked.

But if he is, who comes next?

Would a new manager do better with the players we have?

Kenny has found to his cost as all previous managers have that the Irish players are just not good enough on a consistent basis for the upper tier of international football. 

Our players are plying their trade at the clubs they are, and in the divisions they are in for a reason.

They are not world class players. 

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. 

Kenny came into this job thinking he could. But young, inexperienced players are quickly found out in international football and they lose a lot of games while they are learning on the job.

Kenny got that call wrong. You have to find the right mix, the right balance and tactics.

You have to win games.

He knows that and he will have learned so much over these 25 games.  It would be a shame to waste all that learning and start again with a new man.

Will he be around and in charge in the Autumn when the players return to play with Ireland again.

If he is not, he can have no complaints. 

He got a lot longer than his record deserved.

But, more importantly Kenny still retains the backing of the Irish fans and the players and that is vital and it could save him even if they lose on Tuesday against Ukraine. 

The FAI will be slow to move him on while his team is selling out the Aviva Stadium.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Echo WISA

Read all about the monthly winner’s and more.
Click Here

EL_music

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

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