Stephen Kenny's future now in focus

Success always comes with a price. Just ask Connacht, who this week are absorbing the blow that was head coach Pat Liam’s decision to accept the task of resurrecting the sleeping giant that is Bristol Rugby Club from next summer on.

So it is with Dundalk who have already had it all but confirmed that central defender Andy Boyle is moving on to Preston North End in the near future and with the possibility high that Daryl Horgan will be following a similar path.

Heroics on a European stage will do that for a career.

Nobody knows that better than Michael O’Neill, whose offer of employment with the Irish Football Association in Belfast was predicated in no small way on taking Shamrock Rovers into the Europa League group stages in 2011.

The Northern Ireland manager believes Dundalk will have to fight a rearguard action if they are to keep in situ a manager who has previously answered the call from across the Irish Sea when Dunfermline required his services. “It’s going to be tough,” he said. “I have to be honest, Stephen has to be ambitious, He’s 44 (45), he’s been in the League of Ireland for a long time, and I think that he’s learned a lot, different experiences.

“I’m sure the six months at (Shamrock) Rovers and getting sacked was something that he had to rebuild himself from. It took enormous character to do that and I’m sure Stephen Kenny is on the radar of a lot of clubs.”

Kenny lasted less than a calendar year managing in Tallaght but his rebound seemed complete yesterday as he accepted the Philips Sports Manager of the Year award via videolink from Israel before Dundalk’s latest Euro tie with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Football management is a nomadic affair.

Dundalk is Kenny’s sixth port of call. His family still lives in Derry where he enjoyed two spells — his daughter Caoimhe spoke at the awards yesterday in a broad Derry accent — but other homesteads could yet be upon them.

Michael O’Neill’s namesake, Martin, took a similar view. “If people took note of his exploits in Europe, that will bring him into greater focus,” said the Republic of Ireland manager.

“You might see this yourself. People that might not feel as if the League of Ireland is top of their list of things to go and view... but he’s overridden that and gone above that. Dundalk’s exploits have given the league a big lift.

“But it’s really what he has done in Europe is the most important thing and when you consider how close they went to getting through into the Champions League, a penalty kick that was never a penalty, you can go back over those things.... his achievement is absolutely excellent.

“And on the back of that, there is no reason why he wouldn’t be considered for other jobs. Now, of course, Dundalk are going to read this and slam me... he’s put himself into great focus, which is great.”

The same could be said of O’Neill. Both O’Neills.

It’s 12 months since the pair shared the award won by Kenny yesterday and the Republic of Ireland boss spent the aftermath of that evening assuring reporters he would indeed be signing a contract to take him beyond the Euros.

All such conjecture is absent for now as he is signed up for the foreseeable but Ireland’s position atop their qualifying group will continue to make the former Leicester City and Aston Villa manager another target of note across the water.

“I don’t really concern myself about those things, I’ve got a job to do here and I’m serious about it.

“We’ve got off to a good start, which is great, but we’ve points still to play for — loads of points to play for — and still have great enjoyment out of it.

“So I don’t really consider it...

“The very first time that somebody starts talking to you about lengthy contracts, and the minute that you start taking your eye off the ball... maybe at my age, I should consider it more in terms of contracts and that, it has never bothered me.

“As long as you have a bit of health about you, I’ll do something. Have I enjoyed it? Absolutely I have enjoyed it.

“Did I enjoy it the time we lost to Scotland? Not at all. Long time to wait. Terrible Christmas.”

This one will be infinitely better, though O’Neill is expecting Gareth Bale to be fit in time for the crucial Aviva Stadium clash with Wales at the end of May despite the Real Madrid star’s recent surgery on an ankle injury.

“Chris Coleman has said that he will be fit to play and I would take it as read that he would be.

“He’s naturally a world class player. He’s been brilliant for them and there’s no doubt he would be a big miss for them if he were not to play.”


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