Brendan Crossan - The visionary Stephen Kenny is the right man to lead the Republic of Ireland
IT was weird to see the win rate of Republic of Ireland managers going as far back as Jack Charlton. Perched at the top of the list was Brian Kerr with a 55 per cent win rate from 33 games.
Charlton had 50 per cent, Steve Staunton 35 per cent and Martin O’Neill a mere 34 per cent.
Of course, we could let stats govern our lives if we allowed them to.
Kerr, of course, was only in the job for a couple of years – sandwiched in between Mick McCarthy and Steve Staunton.
But even if you’re suspicious of Kerr’s 55 per cent win rate it seems a bigger injustice with each passing year that he didn’t get another contract back in 2005.
Ironically, one of the main criticisms levelled at the Dubliner during his time in charge was that he spent too much time on video analysis for the players’ liking.
Years later, Kerr recalled Shay Given saving a penalty during a World Cup qualifier in Cyprus that preserved Ireland’s slender 1-0 advantage, and noted that showing numerous video clips of penalties taken by the Cypriot player was perhaps beneficial to his goalkeeper.
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Fast-forward to the present and one of the charges levelled against the out-going O’Neill is that there was not nearly enough of that kind of preparation.
Matt Doherty, who made the international breakthrough under O’Neill, delivered a withering analysis of the manager’s approach.
“When you were away with Ireland, you didn’t really have that much coaching,” said the Wolves defender.
“It was more of five-a-side, or 11-a-side game, and that would be it.
“The day before a game you would do a few set-pieces here and there and then go into the game. You are kind of thinking to yourself, ‘what shape are we going to play?’”
Brian Kerr did too much video analysis and Martin O’Neill not enough.
It is undoubtedly true that Kerr suffered from an inherent snobbery in the game.
He’d worked his way up the FAI ladder to claim the top job. But when he got there the margin for error was virtually zero.
Kerr didn’t make it as a professional footballer and hadn’t coached across the water. The feeling was, he'd worked wonders with Ireland’s underage teams but the big job was, well, too big for him.
In Shay Given’s autobiography, the Lifford man was critical of Kerr’s time in charge of the Republic of Ireland senior team and yet he cut his successor and former team-mate Steve Staunton more slack even though the latter was a disaster in the job.
Kerr's blue-collar credentials, it seemed, were frowned upon in some circles. There was an old boys' club in football the Drimnagh man would never be part of.
At the time, Kerr was depicted a failure in the job. Now, he's deemed as a success who got a raw deal from the FAI.
If there were a meritocracy in place Stephen Kenny would be the next manager of the Republic of Ireland. But he won't get it.
Apparently Kenny has been sounded out for the U21 job, which is a clear indication Mick McCarthy is already on his way back to a job he last held in late 2002.
McCarthy has a lot going for him.
For starters, he's available. He knows the lower leagues in England, where many Irish players ply their trade.
He plays a decent brand of football and he's adept at generating great loyalty among his players.
Players like playing for Mick McCarthy. He's a safe pair of hands in a time of stress and would give Euro 2020 qualification a good crack, probably a better crack than O'Neill would have done.
If the FAI hired Stephen Kenny they would be recruiting a philosophy, a clear and ambitious vision for Irish football, someone who has never placed limits on what can be achieved.
The doubters, of course, cite his unsuccessful period at Shamrock Rovers and how his stint with Dunfermline in the 2006/07 didn’t exactly go to plan.
Although he guided the club to a Scottish Cup final against Celtic, the club were relegated at the end of the season.
“Maybe they needed a relegation specialist like a Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis-type figure to rescue it,” Kenny told The Irish News in 2016.
“But it would have been a difficult job for anyone to pull them out of it.
“It was a good style of play, but I dropped too many points when I first went in. Maybe it’s not the way to stay up in that situation. Maybe you have to get your defence right. I had the bigger picture -we’ll get there, we’ll get there - but we ran out of games.”
The fact that Kenny has experienced many highs and lows in a coaching career that spans 20 years should be deemed a massive advantage in his pitch for the Republic of Ireland job.
Those who insist the senior job would be too big for him don’t actually appreciate the depth of Stephen Kenny’s talent.
At Dundalk, he turned so-called journey men into top class performers.
He resurrected the careers of Brian Gartland, Stephen O’Donnell, Richie Towell, Dane Massey, Sean Gannon, Robbie Benson and Darren Meenan.
The style of play he's implemented at Dundalk couldn’t be praised high enough.
Not only did he deliver yet another league and cup double at the Louth club this season, the performances of his side on the European stage have inspired the town of Dundalk and the entire League of Ireland community.
I had the privilege of watching Kenny’s team play in the Europa League group stages in 2016.
The way they applied themselves against AZ Alkmaar, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zenit St Petersburg – both home and away - was truly inspiring.
I was intrigued to watch how Dundalk tried to out-pass their rivals rather than lump the ball forward as most Irish teams are expected to do when facing into superior opposition.
“No matter how good our opponents are,” Kenny explained, “we have to think where we can actually get eight or 10 passes in.”
It’s open to conjecture but it’s doubtful Mick McCarthy or Martin O’Neill could achieve what Stephen Kenny has achieved at an unfashionable club like Dundalk.
He is without doubt the best man for the job.
Sometimes the greatest talent is staring you in the face. And sometimes you have to be brave enough to see it.