Stephen Kenny: Talkin' 'bout a revolution

IT’S hardly an exaggeration to suggest that, such is the reputation for ambitious and adventurous football which he has carved out at the helm of Dundalk and the U21s, when many people look at Stephen Kenny they don’t just see the latest Ireland manager, they see someone who is about to revolutionise Irish football.
Stephen Kenny: Talkin' 'bout a revolution

IT’S hardly an exaggeration to suggest that, such is the reputation for ambitious and adventurous football which he has carved out at the helm of Dundalk and the U21s, when many people look at Stephen Kenny they don’t just see the latest Ireland manager, they see someone who is about to revolutionise Irish football.

“You’re talking about revolution and that’s a big word,” he responds with a laugh.

“It is. But this is not a soundbite, I mean it, it’s something I strongly believe in — I would like schoolboy teams and academy teams throughout the country to look at the senior international team and think: ‘That’s how we want to play’. That they connect with it at that level. That is my dream.”

That said, Kenny understands there will be times when something a bit more pragmatic and conservative will be required from his team.

“It’s very important that in every game we have the ambition to control the game,” he says.

“My whole ideology is based on controlling the game. But I can’t guarantee that in every game that that will work. Sometimes, if you’re playing the highest-ranked teams, you don’t always have the level of possession you would want in order to do that.

“So we must be tactically very astute but still harbour the ambition at all times to establish the control of the game.

Because if you can do that if gives you a great platform to create attacks and it gives your defence respite. No matter who we are playing, home or away, it will be about trying to establish control.

“I’m not going to sit here and criticise anyone, particularly the previous managers. I just didn’t like that people had the opinion that it was in our DNA to play long ball and that our players had developed the characteristics over the generations to play in a more direct way.

“I disagreed with that fundamentally and I still continue to disagree with it. But you have to try and prove it otherwise.”

He also accepts he will have to prove himself to doubters who question his inexperience at the highest level.

“You have to continually prove yourself,” he says.

“I’ve a two-year contract until the end of the World Cup campaign. In order for me to get a further contract, you’re right, I’ll have to prove myself and I’m comfortable with that.

“I agree with it. Collectively we have to produce good performances as a team so people say: ‘We still want Stephen Kenny to continue in the future’. I’ve got to earn the right to do that over the next two years.”

His most immediate challenge, of course, is to complete the unfinished business of European Championship qualifying.

Mick McCarthy had always maintained the play-off games would be ones for seasoned campaigners only but Kenny insists he will have his own approach.

“You have to see it through fresh eyes as a manager coming in but you have to respect the players who played in the campaign,” he says.

“But we only won one of the six games in the group, if you take the Gibraltar games out. By no means do I want to criticise the set-up but I do things my own way, put it that way.

“What will be the deciding factor is what players come into the pre-season with their clubs and start in the games and push on and get in to their teams. It is not the sole criteria for being selected that they play every game but it certainly helps. It gives them their best opportunity.

“You have to keep an open mind. I’m hoping I have serious headaches. Ideally, I’ll have real dilemmas.”

Finding a solution to Ireland’s goal shyness will be a particular challenge, and one which many are assuming Kenny will seek to solve by promoting some of his U21 stars.

“There are four attacking players there who are eligible for the U21 team for the next campaign: Adam Idah, Troy Parrott, Aaron Connolly, and Michael Obafemi,” he says.

Aaron Connolly
Aaron Connolly

“It’s interesting to see who will come through there. I think they are all very talented. I’m hoping they continue to progress. I think they are natural goalscorers, genuinely natural goalscorers. But the caveat is how they’re doing at their clubs.

“And while I didn’t want to come here singling out players, I must say that David McGoldrick has been selfless in his performances because he’s been quite isolated.

“Technically, he’s very, very good and that’s one of the things Mick McCarthy did really, really well, he really rejuvenated David McGoldrick. And while not a prolific forward, his hold-up play and his football intellect — he sees things early and has good movement — has been very important to Ireland in the campaign.”

Assessing the significance of Ireland qualifying for the Euro finals — and, after that, the World Cup — Kenny offers a salutary lesson in recent as well as somewhat more ancient football history.

“We haven’t qualified for three of the last four tournaments. We’re only in the play-off because we were in Group B in the Nations League.

We finished bottom of Group B in the Nations League. We’re only in it because everyone in Group B qualified.

“But we have an opportunity to go away to Slovakia who are obviously a good team at home. It’s difficult to win two away games. Statistically, we’d be told we haven’t beaten two high-ranked nations away in a row for a long time.

“We have to be optimistic. We have to view it as an opportunity. The Euros in Dublin would be really, really special but the World Cup is the World Cup. And it’s been a long time since we’ve been there. By the time Qatar comes around, it will have been 20 years since we’ve been at a World Cup.

“So the opportunity exists on both fronts to try and get there.”

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