Larry Ryan: In a new world, it won’t be too strange if Ireland keep the ball

HOW good is Stephen Kenny’s timing?
Larry Ryan: In a new world, it won’t be too strange if Ireland keep the ball
Kenny with Mick McCarthy

HOW good is Stephen Kenny’s timing?

Whenever this thing is over, consensus is we’re looking at the construction of a new world.

Revamped financial systems. Supply chain remodeling. Changed work practices. Reimagining of urban living. New social contracts. Maybe even respect

for nurses and shopworkers.

With all of this on our plate, getting Ireland to keep the ball is hardly the biggest ask.

When we eventually emerge from death and tragedy and restriction, and begin to rebuild, surely some of that pent-up energy and creativity can be harnessed to get the lads at the back to knock it into feet, rather than ping another ‘diag’.

In a life changed utterly, it might not rank among the biggest departures if our throw-ins don’t always go down the line.

Amid all the new normals, our footballers may just be open to exploring possibilities beyond keeping it tight and looking to snatch one.

The great Tipp hurler Tony Wall once noted how sporting culture can evolve.

There was a time when extra training wasn’t the done thing, even for the countyman.

“People trained like alcoholics,” is how Tony put it. “Training on your own wasn’t done. It was, but you didn’t like people to know.

“One of the Wexford fellas had a farm and he had a hollow up at the top of the farm. And he’d run around in the hollow, so that nobody would see him.”

Nowadays, the countyman’s selfie has 500 likes before he has the first isometric squatted.

So we can surely imagine a time when the Irish footballer doesn’t like people to know he is giving the ball away cheaply.

When it will not be the done thing to knock it aimlessly. To help it on.

When hoofing it long is the kind of elicit practice you might get up to in the hollow of a remote field, on your own time, rather than during an international at the Aviva.

Not that Stephen’s work will be straightforward. It has often been easier to detect the influence of soccer’s great thinkers — in terms of using possession and flexibility of team shape — in a modern hurling match than in an international at the Aviva.

So just as the captains of industry and finance have some recalculation ahead of them, to get the show back on the road, Irish football will also have to crunch the numbers again, specifically in terms of our old friend, the percentages.

We have paid a lot of attention to the percentages over the years. We have scrutinised them, with a diligence our bluechip auditors must envy, and come to the conclusion that no good can come of us having the ball. That the percentage move is to knock it, before somebody relieves us of it in a ‘dangerous area’.

Indeed Stephen Kenny encountered our deep-rooted conviction about the percentages before his second match in charge of Ireland’s U21s.

Ahead of the Toulon tournament opener against China, midfielder Jason

Molumby, having instinctively totted things up, asked his gaffer if he should knock it long from the kick-off, ‘to get them turned early’. Kenny detailed his response, on Eamon Dunphy’s The Stand podcast.

I said, no we won’t. It’s really warm. We have to get control of the game. Let’s get hold of it. Let’s get players an early touch.

Hopefully it’s on the actuarial record, by those crunching the percentages, that Ireland instead strung 10 passes together and Zack Elbouzedi had scored before China touched the ball.

To be fair to Irish football, you can regularly see the influence of the great thinkers at underage level up and down the land. But now Stephen Kenny wants schoolboys and girls to be able to look to the senior international team for inspiration.

And again his timing is ideal. Just as kids are growing used to novel learning experiences. When they are turning to Don Conroy and Joe Wicks and even their parents for their education, it might not seem too strange watching Ireland to see how it is done.

Of course there is one flaw in the masterplan. And it has been pointed out this week by some of those who helped Ireland calculate the percentages over the years.

Kenny with Mick McCarthy
Kenny with Mick McCarthy

They don’t know Stephen Kenny in England.

Richard Dunne outlined the extent of the problem. “For two days I have been getting text messages from friends in England asking: ‘Who is this Stephen Kenny guy that Ireland have just appointed?’.”

This unfortunate situation poses all manner of knock-on consequences.

How will our players have any faith in the manager if a friendly UK journalist doesn’t link him to a job with a Premier League struggler every time we lose a game?

If things get really bad, is the door closed to a heart to heart with Kammy on Goals on Sunday?

Will we trust a gaffer who never gets to convince Merse of his philosophy on The Debate?

Of course our problem has rarely been the players’ lack of trust in a manager, rather our managers’ reluctance to trust the players with the ball.

We could channel even more of our money through the FAI for a marketing campaign. To raise awareness of Stephen Kenny.

That might have been the instinct in the old days. A four-year contract, maybe, for a PR guru, even if Stephen’s only runs to two.

But before we go down that road, it might be worth considering the merits of a spell when the English — and everybody else — don’t know all there is to know about us.

We have taken a certain pride, over the years, in how well we are known. In our guaranteed Irish stamp.

They know we enjoy it, the visiting gaffers, and tend to tell us what we like to hear.

That you know what you get with the Irish. That they will make it hard for you. That they will be up for the battle. And that they will play the percentages.

But overall, if you were to scrutinise the numbers diligently, you might conclude that it hasn’t always worked out that well for us, being so knowable.

That maybe we could use a spell quietly changing everything in the hollow of a remote field.

Until we are ready to take on a new world.

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