Football | Talking points from Stephen Kenny’s unveiling

David Smith
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Stephen Kenny has officially been unveiled as the Republic of Ireland senior manager, albeit in unusual circumstances.

Then again, everything about his ascendance to the top job in Irish football has been unorthodox, from the FAI’s unprecedented decision to announce the former Dundalk manager as Mick McCarthy’s successor upon appointing the latter as senior boss, to taking the decision to replace McCarthy with Kenny last week as a result of the fixture delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenny’s unveiling by the FAI was conducted via a video press conference, with the former U21 Ireland manager answering questions about his new role.

Here are the main talking points from a unique introduction to the new manager of the Boys in Green.


Please people with passing principles

Kenny says he wants Irish fans to be looking forward to matches at the Aviva Stadium, and has vowed to take his passing philosophy with him to the senior setup.

The Dubliner says he wants Ireland to play with conviction, and that the team will aim to dominate possession in a lot of games.

Kenny, who has won plaudits for his teams’ expressive football, feels his style of play is what ultimately earned him his opportunity with Ireland.

The 48-year-old says he only has one shot at the job, and aims to stick to his guns.

“I will ensure that I have conviction in the way we set up the team,” he said.

“The ambition will be to dominate possession in a lot of the games, we can’t promise we’ll always achieve that, but I want people to come to the Aviva Stadium and look forward to going and watching this team.

“Ideally I would want every schoolboy team looking at the senior international team and thinking ‘that is how we want to play’. That’s what I would want.”

Hardly surprising, but is refreshing to hear the new Ireland manager place such an emphasis on playing an attractive brand of football.

No room for Robbie

Robbie Keane has been left in limbo.

Ireland’s record goalscorer is still contracted to the FAI, but remains without any defined role following McCarthy’s departure.

Kenny says he hasn’t included the Middlesbrough assistant manager in his new backroom team because he wanted to bring in his own team, and revealed that he didn’t get a chance to inform Keane of his decision in person.

The former League of Ireland manager also praised his assistant Keith Andrews, and lauded Damien Duff’s work at Celtic.

“Listen, he’s been our greatest ever goalscorer, it was just that I wanted my own backroom team, simple as that,” he told RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue. 

“Keith Andrews is my assistant. We’ve worked together for the last 15 months with the under 21s and we’ve got a tremendous rapport, get on very well. For me, I’m into clearly defined roles as a management team, I don’t like crossover roles.”

Jim Crawford has inherited the U21s following Kenny’s early promotion, meaning there is a lack of obvious roles for Keane to step into.

It is an awkward situation for everyone involved, and one which the FAI needs to address as soon as possible.

Good news for Matt Doherty

Matt Doherty has never been shy about expressing his bemusement with his lack of international caps.

The rampaging Wolves defender was virtually unused by Martin O’Neill, and largely had to play second fiddle to Seamus Coleman under his successor McCarthy.

Kenny was fulsome in his praise of the Irish back line, describing the quartet of Doherty, Shane Duffy, John Egan and Enda Stevens as one of the best defences in European football.

The Ireland manager also expressed his bafflement that one o the Premier League’s leading right backs only has two competitive caps at international level.

Doherty’s ears will also have pricked up at Kenny’s stated intention of playing with “raiding” full backs, and Kenny also dismissed the opinion that it is a straight battle between Doherty and Coleman for one position.

“It’s not a Matt Doherty (against) Coleman battle because Matt Doherty can play at left-back or right-back, and he has played in advanced positions as well.” 

His comments bode well for Doherty, and suggest Kenny may be willing to revisit McCarthy’s swiflty-abandoned experiment involving Doherty operating on the right of midfield with Coleman behind him.

Doherty’s form over the past two seasons at club level should make him the automatic choice at right back, but it will be interesting to see whether Kenny is willing to bench the Ireland captain in favour of the Cork native.

At 27, Doherty is now in his prime, and it’s time to fully unleash the Wolves defender on the international stage.

Egan brings a new dimension

Kenny reserved special praise for John Egan.

The Sheffield United centre back was name checked on multiple occasions, and it is already clear that Kenny sees the Kerryman as a crucial player in the heart of the Irish defence.

Kenny says Egan “changed the dynamic” of the Irish team with his passing, and says the defender was ready for international football when he secured a £4 million move to the Blades from Brentford in a club-record deal in July 2018.

“I think our back four have been very consistent and I do think that the addition of John Egan into the back four changes its dynamic. Rather than having two traditional number fives. It changes everything really (in terms of) how you play.”

A late bloomer at international level, 28-year-old Egan has enjoyed a superb season for Sheffield, who are one of the major success stories of the 2019/20 Premier League.

Can Kenny unlock Brady’s creativity?

In the space between Euro 2016 and Euro 2021, Robbie Brady has somehow become somewhat of a peripheral player for the Boys in Green.

The hero against Italy in that tournament, Brady was expected to kick on and firmly cement his status as Ireland’s leading source of creativity (alongside the ageing but underused Wes Hoolahan).

Instead, injuries and a loss of form have resulted in Brady missing out on starting Irish elevens and even matchday squads.

Brady’s stagnation has not gone unnoticed by Kenny, who aims to address the issue.

“With some players, it’s difficult to know why, for example, someone like Robbie Brady, three years ago was probably our most creative player, and now at times he hasn’t got into the (matchday) 22.

“How has that happened? I think my job is to try and unlock the potential of the whole team and what is the best way of doing that and that’s what I see as my job. I’m really excited by it and hugely honoured to be given the opportunity to do that.”

Creative midfielders like Brady should thrive under Kenny’s management, with Ireland likely to place more emphasis on sustained possession and a more expansive style of play.

The Burnley midfielder can play on either flank, behind the striker or drop back to left back if required.

At 28, he still has plenty to offer Irish football.