Five challenges Stephen Kenny much tackle before a ball is kicked

Now that the folly of a misguided succession plan has been untangled, Irish football is all about Stephen Kenny.
Five challenges Stephen Kenny much tackle before a ball is kicked

Now that the folly of a misguided succession plan has been untangled, Irish football is all about Stephen Kenny.

He’s spent the last year batting away questions on his ascension from the U21s but has been quietly planning for what he deems as the ultimate job of managing his country.

Despite the physical restrictions stemming from Covid-19, Kenny can intensify his preparations for what is likely to the first match of the Uefa Nations League campaign in September.

UEFA have indicated to members that, as a means of catching up, international windows will expand to three matches, suggesting the play-off in Slovakia could be the last game of 2020 in November.

Here’s five challenges Kenny much tackle before a ball is kicked in the Autumn.

Finalise his backroom team:

A newcomer to senior international management, and that’s what Kenny is, requires a strong team around him and so its imperative to get that aspect right from the outset. Promoting Keith Andrews and Jim Crawford from his U21 coaching staff was never going to be sufficient for the biggest post in Irish sport so the approach made to Damien Duff makes sense.

Well got with chief executive Gary Owens and chairman Roy Barrett, who also have previous connections to Dublin schoolboy club St Joseph’s Boys, the inclusion of the Celtic coach on the ticket adds solidity.

There will be others changes too deeper into the backroom team.

Get the senior players onside:

No matter how much it’s tried to be downplayed, Kenny’s lack of top career experience in both playing and management will cast doubt to some in the dressing-room. Our players may not have bundles of medals but do have notions. Centurion Kevin Kilbane said as much when the hairbrained handover idea was hatched 18 months ago.

On the upside, veteran James McClean is a Kenny disciple, having flourished under him at Derry City. Shane Duffy, also a Foylesider, will have heard enough first-hand experience to be convinced, as will the likes of Enda Stevens who also learnt their trade on the League of Ireland circuit. How he handles the precarious cases of elder statesmen Glenn Whelan and Shane Long will provide early indicators on that front.

Adopt a style of play:

Those familiar with Kenny’s track record would be aware he’s anything but conservative with his tactics. This will be crucial to generating support from, and a relationship with, Irish fans.

They need only to the view the clips circulating in this barren period from the dozen U21 matches he presided over during 2019 to appreciate his emphasis on attack.

Still, there may have to be tweaks. For instance, Kenny abides by the philosophy of operating with one striker, a limitation he’ll need flexibility on, given the abundance of forward options oscillating between the U21s and seniors. Troy Parrott, Michael Obafemi, Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly have played in the Premier League this season.

Take a stance on Granny Rule players:

Kenny raised eyebrows last July when claiming Jack Grealish and Declan Rice wouldn’t have jumped ship to England had better cohesion existed between the underage and senior managers in the FAI.

He said it was imperative that the latest dual-eligible talent such as teenager Joe Hodge are fast-tracked into the senior ranks.

Now Kenny gets a chance to walk the walk. Not much has been mentioned about it since the day of his unveiling in November 2018 but high-performance director Ruud Dokter spoke of Kenny holding a broad remit across the underage set-up during his wait for senior elevation.

With his coach Crawford a shoo-in to replace him as U21 boss, nothing should fall between the cracks.

Keep his emotions in check:

Leaked details of FAI board minutes showed directors raising concerns about Kenny's early public performances, especially in the media.

The Dubliner is well-known, and praised for, being a maverick when it comes to discussing all range of matters inside and outside of football.

Those passionate outbursts, sometimes controversial, are central to his character but whether the new FAI boardroom, phobic about adverse publicity, concur with them all remains to be seen.

A spotlight like never before will shine on Kenny’s every word and the body language he exhibits during those often tense post-match television interviews watched by millions.

As Brian Kerr discovered, enjoying the unusual position of living in Ireland while working as the senior manager is an occupational hazard when the inevitable testing moments arise.

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