Brendan O'Brien: A low-key coronation but Stephen Kenny has plans to excite

Brendan O'Brien: A low-key coronation but Stephen Kenny has plans to excite

MAYBE it was appropriate given how the world itself has been turned upside down that Stephen Kenny’s ‘unveiling’ as Republic of Ireland manager earlier this week was done in the sort of furtive fashion more akin to a sacking.

Think about it: what had we but a few weeks of ‘will he, won’t he?’ speculation followed by an emailed statement from the board to confirm it.

Kenny was finally presented to a media, most of whom he will know well from their paths having crossed on League of Ireland duties down the years, although the virtual element to yesterday’s online Q&A was a long way removed from the pomp and pageantry witnessed when Giovanni Trapattoni was ushered in at the RDS and Steve Staunton at the Mansion House.

It was also a very different picture to the one painted 17 years ago when Brian Kerr kicked off his own time in charge of the senior national side in fine style. 

Kerr started with a press conference at the Great Room in the Shelbourne Hotel. It was, really, more of a coronation in front of an estimated 200 people, Eamonn Coghlan and Marian Finucane among them.

The photo of Kerr that ran on the front of the Irish Examiner sports section the next day — beaming smile and arms outstretched in the manner of a striker wheeling away after scoring the winner — captured the celebratory nature of the occasion. 

His wife and daughter hurrahed him in. So did plenty of his friends and supporters, not to mention some members of the media.

Brendan O'Brien: A low-key coronation but Stephen Kenny has plans to excite

“It’s the biggest job in the world as far as I’m concerned,” he said at one point.

The main question asked of Kerr at the time, apart from his plans to bring Roy Keane out of his self-imposed international exile, was whether he was big enough for the job. 

The absence of a playing background in the goldfish bowl of English football was presented as evidence against him and it has been aired again in recent weeks and months in relation to Kenny.

Rodney Marsh made the point on Sky Sports in 2003 that he wouldn’t be able to tell Kerr apart from “a bar of soap”. 

The Dubliner’s response to all this guff back then was that he had been hired by the FAI to be a manager rather than a player.

It lacked the punch of Arrigo Sacchi’s line about a jockey not being required to have served time as a horse and it was a suspicion he never quite shook off.

ONE significant difference between the elevations of Kerr and Kenny to this most dizzying of heights is the wider context. 

The former spoke well about his intention to bring the domestic game in under the umbrella of the senior set-up but it is only in recent times that we have seen League of Ireland players begin to make meaningful inroads into the first XI.

Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne may well be the most qualified candidate to fill a creative midfield role shorn of the requisite class and nous since the criminally underused Wes Hoolahan last wore a green shirt. 

The uncertainties arising from both Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic may yet shift the dial significantly more in the Airtricity League’s favour in an international sense.

Jack Byrne
Jack Byrne

Kerr’s appointment came at a time when there was a major controversy brewing over a bonus awarded to Mick McCarthy when signing a new contract the year before and, while the FAI has endured a torrid time of it this last 12 months, there is at least the sense that Kenny is taking the front-of-house role at a time when the governing body is in a place to get its house in order.

Like Kerr, he comes to the role on a wave of goodwill and the hope is that he can surf that for longer and towards greater success than ‘The Greener’ ultimately managed. 

The positive vibes will have reverberated further after his stated determination yesterday, and in times prior, to put out an Ireland team that wants to play attractive football and excite people.

There is a danger that this ambition will become a petard from which to hoist him if the team falls short in either style or the greater substance that comes with results but anyone with a footballing brain and shred of common sense will know that success for Kenny and his team would be a side that offers heart, application, and a sprinkle of creativity.

If they can do that and be competitive it will be hard to criticise.

So, while Kenny’s first week ‘in charge’ has been low key, here’s hoping that he can bow out some years down the line with a smile on his face and his arms outstretched in acknowledgement of a job well done and, not least, sufficiently appreciated.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie Twitter: @byBrendanOBrien

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