In his first public comments since being appointed the new manager of Ireland, Stephen Kenny has acknowledged that the country is going through a very challenging time but said he believes there are better days ahead.
Asked about what his appointment to the top job in Irish football meant to himself and his family, Kenny said: “It is a good day but certainly we’re not in celebratory mode. Our thoughts are with the frontline workers, the doctors, nurses, paramedics, everyone really. The self-sacrifices are heroic. We really support them.”
As he steps up from the under-21 role to take over from Mick McCarthy, Kenny paid tribute to the man who has had to vacate his post early because of the impact on the football calendar of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Mick’s obviously had a tremendous career as captain of Ireland and as manager of Ireland on two occasions and he leaves a legacy behind him,” said his successor.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation with the cancellation of the matches. But he’s revered in Ireland and has made a great contribution over the last couple of years, with Robbie Keane and Terry Connor also and all the staff.”
Kenny was enthusiastic about looking ahead to when football is able to resume and he and his team can get back on the international trail. And he knows they’ll have to hit the ground running.
“It’s an incredible year, really unprecedented,” he said in an interview on FAI TV.
“You’ve got the Euro playoff against Slovakia, of course, we’ve got six games in the Nations League and also World Cup qualifiers. That’s never happened before where you’ve got Euro playoffs, Nations League and World Cup qualifiers in the same calendar year.
There’ll be nine games between September and November, an incredible schedule, and very exciting. We have a lot to look forward to.
“Keith has been coaching the Ireland U16s, 17s and 18s and coached with the U21s for me this year,” the manager said. “We had a great rapport really, very forthright, and I welcome that. And I think he’s done very well.
“Damien Duff was with the Ireland U15s and did very well. He’s also been with Shamrock Rovers and the reports from Celtic’s first team this season are that he’s been excellent there all year. He has a very high work ethic and he’s a big addition to the coaching team.
“Alan Kelly has a wealth of experience and he’s a very analytical goalkeeping coach so we’re delighted to have him.”
Kenny also believes that he is leaving the under-21 squad in safe hands, with his assistant Jim Crawford taking over the reins and former Ireland international John O’Shea coming on board.
“Jim Crawford was Ireland U18 manager and came in last year with the U21s and had made a great contribution really over the campaign,” he said.
“We’re winning the group at the moment and we’ve three games left to try and qualify for the U21 European Championships that have now been put back a year, of course. He’ll have John O’Shea alongside him, who has a lot of experience, of course, working with Reading. So I’m sure they’ll look forward to that challenge as well.”
Asked, finally, if he had a message for the Ireland fans, Kenny framed his response in the context of the profoundly difficult times in which we live.
“At the moment, we’ve got to really stay safe,” he said.
“We’ve got to look after each other. There’s a lot of tragedy throughout Europe and in Ireland, and people have been very disciplined throughout the country and hopefully we get the benefits of that. A lot of people have lost their lives, of course, and our thoughts are with them.
“But to the Irish fans – there are better days ahead and we can look forward in a sporting context to what will be a magnificent year of football in the Aviva Stadium over the forthcoming year.”