Stephen Kenny has said that he can’t permit the crisis at the FAI to be a negative distraction as he seeks to keep his focus firmly on his role as U21 manager.
Asked if all the turbulence and uncertainty was impacting on his job, he replied:
“No, I can’t allow it. You have to retain focus. You couldn’t let your spirits diminish or erode. A lot of good things are happening on the football side and you have to focus on that, as a coach.”
Kenny’s workload means that, to a large extent, he has been on the outside looking in as the FAI has been engulfed in turmoil.
“I’ve actually been away five of the last seven weeks,” he pointed out, “at the Toulon Tournament, we were in camp for a week before that, I was in Italy (at the U21 Finals) and then Armenia (at the U19 Finals) for eight days. It’s been a great learning curve for me and I haven’t been able to focus too much on what’s been happening (in Abbotstown) although I have tried to get daily reports and so forth.
“It’s obviously challenging times for everyone in Irish football and there is no hiding from that. But for me, with the football side of it, I have to detach myself from it as a coach and just focus on the football. From that side of it, it’s been quite positive with the young players coming through. There is encouragement and you have to harness that.
“For me, I have six (European Championship) qualifiers and we’re fourth seeds. Six qualifiers in September, October and November, and great teams like Italy and Sweden coming to Dublin and great matches. I have been educating myself at the different tournaments I’ve been involved in and attending, and it’s been a good learning experience for me.”
Following an invitation from FAI General Manager Noel Mooney, the former Dundalk manager was able to find time in his hectic schedule to attend one day of the recent League of Ireland weekend workshop at which Niall Quinn and Kieran Lucid outlined their respective visions for the domestic game, with the latter’s plan for an All-Ireland League striking a particular chord for Kenny.
“As someone who has lived in Derry and Dundalk and was also involved in those cross-border matches, I was in favour of the idea personally,” he said. “His presentation was very good. There is a grey area as to the UEFA places and as to whether they will still exist for both leagues and whether they could guarantee that. All those discussions have to be had.
“Niall Quinn’s group have a lot of impressive people and it’s great someone like him wanted to get involved as well and put so much effort into a plan going forward. I felt it was good. You can sort of see some wider picture. You can get tied up in parochial disputes but you have to see beyond that and try and see some real vision and strategy for what you could be.
“They were very impressive presentations all around and I think that that’s good, that people want to get involved in the league. I haven’t been privy to the real detail that you would have over a series of meetings so I can’t claim to be an expert in knowing the ins and outs of both situations or what’s best, but it is brilliant, I feel, that people are wanting to get involved, are coming up with new ideas and want to bring it forward. I think that that has to be welcomed.”
Whatever the future shape of the League of Ireland, Kenny feels that government support will be vital to providing the necessary infrastructure to help maximise the potential of the domestic game.
Speaking on a visit to Duleek FC as part of the FAI’s Festival of Football in Meath which leads up to Saturday’s AGM, he said: “I’ve always felt the government was very light on involvement in the league, that they could have made a greater contribution. It’s just the way the grants system is structured in Ireland. It’s different.
“The stadium issue is a big issue for a lot of the clubs around the country. I’ve just been to Italy for the U21 European Championships. I know it’s a different country but they can say they’ll have the U17s in stadiums of 10,000 and have the U21 tournaments in stadiums of 20,000 — they won’t go near the 40,000 ones. I went to Regio Emilia, stayed in Bologna, went to Udine and Cesena, some great stadiums.
“Our second-best stadium is probably Tallaght at the moment, after the Aviva. There are probably 90 stadia in England better than that, you know?
“So that’s where we are, really. That’s a big big issue and, until we solve that issue, it’s a big, big issue for people to come in their masses.”