Kenny says ‘eager’ Irish players went off-message

As Stephen Kenny desperately clings onto the conviction that the Irish public are listening to his scriptures, the evidence of his players doing likewise is fading
Kenny says ‘eager’ Irish players went off-message

BLUSTER: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during the game against Armenia. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

As Stephen Kenny desperately clings onto the conviction that the Irish public are listening to his scriptures, the evidence of his players doing likewise is fading.

That’s not a conspiracy theory, for the inquisition drilling into the backdrop to their capitulation against Armenia on Tuesday only succeeded in discerning a chasm between the bench and pitch.

How it took a 92nd minute penalty awarded by VAR to stumble over the line against the nation ranked 92nd in the world is the great unknown.

Kenny’s claim that his players were victims of their own ambition to tack more goals onto their 2-0 lead infers laudable innocence, a desire to use the minnow for the crowd's entertainment value.

But this wasn’t the friendly against Qatar of 11 months ago when attacking with abandonment posed no risk to Nations League relegation or the latest stumble of Kenny’s reign.

It was also different to the situation against Ukraine in June, a scoreless stage of the match when Nathan Collins slalomed from the halfway line to source the lead goal.

That Kenny revealed he was preaching caution from the sideline once Michael Obafemi buried the second goal seven minutes into the second half is the fascinating element here.

“We passed on instructions and so forth,” he admitted when asked about the tactical plan during the 19-minute spell preceding Armenia’s two-goal blitz to level.

“We didn't need to chase a third goal - just to calm down, relax, keep possession and control the game more."

It's a fine line between a centre-half dribbling past five defenders to score against Ukraine and then criticising him for doing it again.

“Our centre-backs and wing-backs were just a bit too eager and too advanced collectively for a team winning 2-0.” 

Hearing those tidings and heeding them are two different things.

Kenny’s entire manifesto for being a change agent rests on, as he forecasted in Luxembourg last November, his team becoming “brilliant”.

That is bound to lend itself to liberation among his players but the worry is the liability it invites when superior teams await in next year’s European Championship qualification campaign that the manager’s job hangs on.

“It is not to say we won't continue to attack - because we will,” he declared despite hiccups continuing to blight his two-year residency.

“That's what we're committed to; playing the way we want to play.

“We made mistakes and ultimately conceded goals but we won the match and completely deserved to win the match. We should have won it by more goals and will learn our lessons.” 

Categorising the 3-2 salvage job as a convincing win was another odd take, fuelling the sense that whatever about Kenny’s struggles for results – four wins from 21 competitive matches would leave a team in the relegation zone at club level – his interpretation is blinkered.

Take, for example, the World Cup qualifier against Serbia a year ago at the same venue, a match Ireland were dominated in before an unlikely late reprieve through a calamitous own-goal.

All Kenny honed in on afterwards, once he’d completed a lap of honour, was the long-range shot by Andrew Omobamidele in stoppage time, one of only two on target over 90 minutes compared to Serbia’s 10. Oh, and Ukraine’s winner in June was a “fluke”.

If players aren’t listening to Kenny, then certainly his employers are monitoring his bluster. He’s the public face and voice of an organisation seeking a new sponsor and image matters. Especially when results aren’t worth shouting about in their sales pitch to the market.

Latching onto credit for adopting a progressive style was rightly derided by Damien Delaney on Virgin Media this week, while the theory that he owns a copyright on the latest batch of players being promoted is absurd.

Gavin Bazunu, Jason Knight and Nathan Collins – who, at 16. Mick McCarthy blooded in a training match at Ipswich Town – would be permanent fixtures regardless of manager.

It's rare that such a forlorn mood occupies the aftermath of a win, yet false starts, mundane middles and scrambling finishes constitute the yield 27 games into the Kenny era.

Three consecutive third place finishes for the third seeds doesn’t represent progress but don’t let those facts ground a further flight of fancy when there’s another pedestal to pontificate on looming.

Tune into the Euros draw on Sunday week for the latest sounds from a record rotating to the same beat. Just don’t expect players to be still attuned.

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