By John Fallon
Hail, hail King Kenny.
When the haze from the fourth annual battle of Ireland’s top two subsides for a few months at least, the one constant is the growing case of Stephen Kenny’s candidature for the most esteemed job in the land.
By adding the FAI Cup to the league title claimed last month, the 47-year-old has drawn level with the great Jim McLoughlin as Dundalk’s greatest ever boss.
Some could be even kinder by pointing out he’s reached the eight-trophy haul in six years, 12 months less than the time needed for the legendary northerner to amass the largesse of silverware.
As he prepares for acclaim at their homecoming tonight in the main square of a town he’s resurrected from the brink of extinction in 2012, it is worth noting his repertoire extends far beyond Co Louth.
From qualifying Longford Town for their first European campaign a couple of years after being appointed to his first job at the age of 27, to winning the Premier Division at Bohemians and improving Derry City over two spells, Kenny has achieved much along his flightpath. There was also the Scottish Cup final he led Dunfermline to in 2007. His only blot remains a short-lived spell at Shamrock Rovers and the decision to axe him in his first season has proven to be costly by a club with more lows than highs since.
Moreover, what screams aloud from Kenny’s CV, not that he’s one to gloat, is his feat of nurturing budding senior internationals. At the last count, 13 had come under his guidance, most of them at Derry, including Eamon Zayed, who has represented Libya. Sol Bamba from his days in Scotland reached a World Cup with Ivory Coast.
That tally, similar to trophy count, will likely swell too. An untimely injury denied Richie Towell a first cap last month, but Michael Duffy and yesterday’s match-winner, Patrick McEleney, are also in contention to feature under Republic manager Martin O’Neill.
Dubliner Kenny, in contrast to Rovers, has engineered an upward trajectory since he was sacked out 2012.
Season one at Oriel Park was all about steadying a sinking ship, one that had only been kept afloat by desperate fundraising measures such as bag-packing. With support in the stands waning, sympathy at the shopping-centre check-out was turned to.
Against the odds, second place behind champions St Patrick’s Athletic was secured.
Fast forward almost six years and two stalwarts from that opening season, Chris Shields and John Mountney, were in his starting team at Lansdowne Road.
“This was the first of the four finals that John got a start and I felt he deserved it,” explained Kenny.
Loyalty figures highly on his wish-list, but even Dundalk’s new American owners won’t stand in his way if his dream job comes to him. That prospect might not be as far-fetched as it seems.
If, and when, O’Neill is moved aside, the limited list of replacements contenders doesn’t excite.
Mick McCarthy is out of work and has unfinished business, but if a brave new era is to be looked towards, with a fresh set of eyes and ears, who better than one from our own stable to answer the call?
Aside from diehard League of Ireland fans favouring that route, one of our greatest servants feels the same. Richard Dunne has stuck his neck out by recommending Kenny for the vacancy whenever the next bout of blood-letting around the job is complete.
Modesty is the hallmark of Kenny. Asked during yesterday’s post-match press conference if his decision to introduce the influential Jamie McGrath for Mountney on the hour a game-changer, he injected some levity.
“Well, when I made a substitution at that time in last year’s final, we ended up losing,” he noted.
It’s the sort of remark that shows Kenny doesn’t indulge bluster, something very welcome in an Irish dressing-room. At a juncture when O’Neill and plenty like him beyond these shores like to talk down the capabilities of Irish footballers, he’s having none of it.
Irish football needs to be better and he’s already illustrated his record for accomplishment with scarce resources in the League of Ireland. What’s to stop him soaring on the international stage, just when the nation requires a lift, as Dundalk did back in late 2012.
It all makes sense in the case of King Kenny.
Just not enough sense for the FAI to deem it other than too much of a risk.