John Caulfield: You know what you’ll get with Stephen Kenny

John Caulfield thinks it's a great time for Stephen Kenny to be taking over the national team.
John Caulfield: You know what you’ll get with Stephen Kenny
John Caulfield: Now is actually a great time for Stephen Kenny to be coming in. Photo: INPHO/Donall Farmer

It might not always have been the friendliest of relationships when they found themselves in opposing dug-outs in the red-hot heat of battle at Oriel or the Cross, but John Caulfield says there was always a bedrock of respect between himself and Stephen Kenny when their Cork City and Dundalk sides were thrilling the League of Ireland with one of the all-time great club rivalries.

“We were the top two more or less at the end of every season,” says the former City manager. “So of course there’s going to be intense rivalry but, of course, there’s going to be huge respect too. Because, especially when you step back from the madness of it, you see that Stephen was working 24/7 to get the best for his team and we were doing likewise. When you’re in the zone, in that bubble, football is like no other business.

“Would we have been bosom buddies? Of course we weren’t but that’s the same at every level of football in any country. When your teams are coming up against each other like ours were, there’s always going to be an edge. It’s only when you come out of it afterwards and you have time to reflect on it and have a drink with people that you realise that they were brilliant times.”

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While Caulfield says he has considerable sympathy for Mick McCarthy at having to step away with Euro qualification still possible, it was always his view that Kenny should have given the top job in the first place.

“Even though I thought Stephen should have got it two years ago, it would have seemed logical to let Mick see out the campaign before Stephen would move in,” he says.

“I know the circumstances are extraordinary but the timing seems strange and, to be fair to Mick, you’d have to be gutted to be leaving with two games remaining to bring Ireland back to the Euros and, for the first time ever, play games in the finals in your own country.

“But I always felt the succession plan seemed like a political arrangement to try to suit all camps. And I thought at the time that if Stephen was going to be the manager in two years he had earned the right to be the manager then. But, because the typical perception of the League of Ireland from the outside is poor, it wasn’t recognised by a lot of people that, for example, Stephen would have managed more teams in European competition than a lot of people in English football have.

And there’s a hell of a wealth of other experience you get in the League of Ireland — not only are you managing the team, you’re the guy who recruits and signs the players, you’re involved in your academy. You’re not only a football manager you’re more like a general manager. People on the outside don’t understand how much you learn. So I don’t think Stephen would always have got the credit he deserved.

It came as no surprise at all to Caulfield that Kenny, having been made U21 manager, was making such a success of his first international posting before the top job finally did come his way.

“I was sure he would do well,” he says, “because with Stephen Kenny you know what you’re going to get — a football philosophy, attention to detail, he’s a workaholic and his knowledge is incredible. He also has a hunger to do well and you can’t beat that. And Stephen has applied all that with the U21s”.

And, even though Kenny will now be working with a lot of established Premier League and Championship players, Caulfield sees no reason why his former rival can’t similarly impose his vision on the senior set-up.

“I’m sure that within a very short period of time Stephen will have laid the foundations for exactly what he wants,” he says. “I think it’s a big plus that there are a number of players within that squad with League Of Ireland backgrounds — like McClean, Stevens, Doherty, Coleman. So while I see some ex-players saying that there is a danger of a lack of respect for him, I don’t think that will really be an issue.

“It might have been more difficult if he was coming into a team like the one from the Jack Charlton era, with big players in their late 20s at Manchester United and other big clubs. That might have been a different scenario. But with the players we have, and the younger lads coming through, I think now is actually a great time for him to be coming in.”

For all that, Caulfield cautions against expectations of an overnight revolution in Irish football under the new boss.

“This is different,” he stresses. “In club football, at the end of the day, you can go out and buy players. Will Stephen impose his own style? I’m sure he will but, at the same time, he’ll be well aware that you have to win games. It isn’t just a straight choice between a short game and a long ball game. He’s already done that with Dundalk — they could play either.

“Will Ireland all of a sudden be this real expansive team? They won’t because that takes time. But the main thing for him is that he has lots of really talented players coming through so, on the horizon, it looks like we’ll have much more attacking options than we had previously. But players like Parrot and Idah still need time to develop.

“Stephen will definitely change things but people shouldn’t think that, in the play-offs, straight away we’re going to be playing across the box at the back. I’m not so sure about that.”

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