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29 March 2021

Can Stephen Kenny overcome the mounting problems of his Republic reign?

29 March 2021

Stephen Kenny’s fledgling reign as Republic of Ireland manager has been thrust under the spotlight following a dismal 1-0 World Cup qualifier defeat by Luxembourg.

The Dubliner has presided over 10 games to date and won none of them, although his time at the helm has been blighted by problems beyond his control.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the issues surrounding a man who finds himself under pressure after less than a year in the job.

How did Kenny become Ireland manager?

Stephen Kenny was lined up to succeed Mick McCarthy as Republic of Ireland manager after a spell in charge of the Under-21s (PA Archive)

A hugely successful club boss and a renowned coach – he has six League of Ireland Premier Division titles to his name – Kenny stepped on to the international stage in the wake of Martin O’Neill’s exit in November 2018, although he had to bide his time. With Mick McCarthy having returned as O’Neill’s replacement, Kenny was asked to work with the Under-21s before assuming control of the senior side following Euro 2020. When coronavirus intervened and ultimately forced the postponement of both the play-offs and the finals, he took up the reins in April last year.

How have things gone since?

Not well. Kenny stepped into his role knowing he did not have players of the stature of Shay Given, John O’Shea, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, who had formed the backbone of the Ireland team for a decade or more, at his disposal. He vowed to promote young talent and play a progressive brand of football. There have been positives – they were unfortunate to lose on penalties in their play-off semi-final in Slovakia, while defender Dara O’Shea and midfielder Jayson Molumby, in particular, have not looked out of place among the senior ranks – but results have eluded him. His 10 games to date have brought three draws and seven defeats, the most recent of them by Serbia and Luxembourg having blown apart the Republic’s bid for World Cup qualification in its infancy.

Is this a new problem?

The Republic of Ireland were routed by Christian Eriksen's Denmark in the play-offs for the 2018 World Cup finals (PA Archive)

In the manager’s defence, it is not. Ireland have won just six of the 29 games they have played in all competitions under Kenny, McCarthy and O’Neill since the 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat by Denmark November 2017 which dashed their hopes of a trip to Russia and signalled the beginning of the end for the Derryman. Perhaps more worryingly, they have tasted victory only three times in the 21 competitive fixtures they have played during that period, two of them against Gibraltar and the other against Georgia.

Are there mitigating factors?

Republic of Ireland striker Aaron Connolly (left) was forced to withdraw from the squad because of injury (PA Wire)

It is fair to say Kenny has not enjoyed a great deal of good fortune in the job. Giovanni Trapattoni, who took the Republic to the Euro 2012 finals, often bemoaned his lack of world-class players, while O’Neill repeatedly wished for a 27-year-old Robbie Keane rather than the more venerable version he inherited. The present incumbent has seen a squad already short on men playing regularly at the highest level repeatedly depleted by injury and in the autumn, by Covid-19 outbreaks which robbed him of key players at pivotal moments. This month, for example, he was already without Darren Randolph, John Egan, James McCarthy and Adam Idah and has since lost Aaron Connolly, Edna Stevens, Matt Doherty, Caoimhin Kelleher, Kevin Long, Conor Hourihane and Callum O’Dowda.

What’s keeping him in the job?

FAI chairman Roy Barrett has backed Stephen Kenny (PA Archive)

A defiant Kenny insisted in the wake of the Luxembourg debacle that he could do “a very good” job”, and later received the backing of Football Association of Ireland chairman Roy Barrett. While he has vociferous critics, he also enjoyed concerted support and arrived with a long-term plan, although he needs results to be afforded the time to implement it. In more practical terms, he was also a relatively inexpensive option by comparison with Trapattoni and O’Neill in particular, and his cash-strapped employers could do without having to pay him off.

What does the future hold?

In the very short term, Tuesday night’s friendly against World Cup hosts Qatar in Debrecen, Hungary, a game which has assumed much more significance as a result of Saturday’s events. Qatar, of course, beat Luxembourg 1-0 last week. Beyond that, there is a long wait until September’s eye-wateringly difficult trip to Portugal in the first of six remaining Group A qualifiers before the end of the year.

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