A new era dawns for Ireland


As the Ireland squad jet off to Sofia for their upcoming Nations League match with Bulgaria, fans are cautiously optimistic ahead of the debut of new manager Stephen Kenny. The Dubliner has a familiar looking backroom team which includes former internationals Keith Andrews and Damien Duff who have both developed a quietly impressive reputation in their burgeoning coaching careers.

Much was made in the last few weeks of Jason McAteer’s comments that Kenny might not have enough of a pedigree to command the respect of the players. I couldn’t disagree more with McAteer but there is no doubt that Kenny will not be as familiar to people outside of Ireland. He is well known to League of Ireland fans following an illustrious coaching career thus far. He began his senior coaching career at Longford town at the remarkably young age of 26 and won promotion and reached an FAI cup final during his tenure. From there he joined Dublin side Bohemians and won his first top division title in 2003. He was sacked a couple of seasons later but could leave with his head held high having reached another cup final and finishing second the season after the title win.

It was upon taking his next job at my own local club Derry City that Kenny first appeared properly on my radar. They finished second in his first season in charge, only missing out on the title after a final day defeat in Cork. The following season saw Kenny begin to make waves on a broader scale. Derry embarked on a European run that surely even the most ardent fan didn’t see coming. They first saw off Swedish giants Gothenburg, winning home and away. They then came up against Scottish side Gretna who at the time were striding through the Scottish divisions and had reached the cup final the season prior. Derry destroyed the now defunct club 7-3 on aggregate which included a 5-1 demolition in Scotland which was probably the greatest night I’ve seen in my days supporting the Candystripes. They would go on to face PSG in the UEFA cup first round proper and secured a credible 0-0 draw in the first leg before succumbing 2-0 in Paris.

The job Kenny was doing ensured several admirers and he left Derry to join Scottish side Dunfermline Athletic in 2006. He stayed for a year and reached the Scottish cup final and challenge cup final but also suffered relegation to the first division. This ultimately led to his sacking and subsequent return to Derry City.

City were demoted due to financial irregularities but Kenny was to stay on and guided the club to promotion at the first hurdle. He left Derry to join boyhood club Shamrock Rovers having won a first division title, an Fai cup and 4 league cups. Unfortunately for both parties, things didn’t quite work out in Tallaght and Kenny was sacked after 9 months in charge.

Following this tough period Kenny found himself in charge of Dundalk and then led them to unprecedented success. He oversaw another remarkable European adventure, defeating BATE Borisov in the Champions League and narrowly losing to Legia Warsaw when they were one game from the group stages. They did however drop into the Europa League group stages where they registered the first ever Irish victory at that level thanks to victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. They also picked up a point away to AZ Alkmaar and came out of the competition with plenty of plaudits for their brave, attacking approach.

The FAI came calling in 2018 after his success in Dundalk which included four league titles, two Fai cups and three league cups. Kenny was to initially take charge of the u21 side before taking over from Mick McCarthy following Euro 2020. His spell with the u21s went better than most could have hoped for and has left the squad in a great position to qualify for their first European Championship. He has once again got an unfancied team playing attacking football and competing for a place at the top table.

The coronavirus pandemic led to a change of plan and Kenny was fast-tracked to the senior job in April, with qualification for the Euros themselves still very much up for grabs with a play off in Slovakia to come in October. Having spent that time with the u21s it is now hoped that Kenny is the right man to guide a very exciting crop of youngsters including Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott and Jayson Molumby. There is some talk that the current under 21 squad is possibly the best Ireland has had at that level and I believe Kenny is definitely the man to have in charge for the next few years. He favours attacking football, instills a serious amount of confidence in his players and most importantly for me, will have the squad full of belief that they can qualify and compete at major tournaments. This has been a problem among Irish managers now for going on ten years but I think we can finally say goodbye to the inferiority complex and look forward to a bright future, hopefully beginning with a positive start this week in Bulgaria and against Finland in Dublin. This is a great chance to honour the legendary Jack Charlton and showcase our new talent. As the great man once said, put ’em under pressure.


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