Football/Soccer

Days of 'Put 'em under pressure' football will end when Stephen Kenny takes over as Republic of Ireland manager

Stephen Kenny's stock rose with each of his four league titles and impressive European runs with Dundalk
Andy Watters

THE traditional fallback position of ‘we haven’t got the players’ which has justified the long years of the Republic of Ireland’s attritional ‘put ’em under pressure’ style will come to an end under Stephen Kenny’s management.

The Dubliner, who will serve as Mick McCarthy’s understudy as the Republic’s U21 manager until August 2020 when he takes over the senior reins, wants to usher in a new way of thinking about the game.

“People at all levels of the game, right down to kids’ teams, love watching good football matches,” said Kenny, who spoke articulately and passionately about his vision for the future when he met with the media yesterday.

“People want to come here (to the Aviva), to a packed stadium, and see a team really pass the ball well and really inspire them.

“I see it that way and I think that’s why I’ve been appointed, because everyone else (at the FAI) sees it that way as well.”

He rejected the suggestion that footballing principles have to be sacrificed for the Republic to get results against more gifted sides.

“You have to be able to adapt but adapt doesn’t mean just surrender possession and hope you can hold out and nick something off a set play. That’s not adapting,” he said.

“You have to adapt of course and it’s my job as a coach and a manager to set out a way of doing that.

Kenny’s managerial career began 20 years ago with Longford Town and continued through spells at Bohemians, Derry City (twice), Dunfermline, St Patrick’s Athletic and, most recently, a trophy-packed five-year rein at Dundalk.

“It hasn’t always been an upward curve,” he admitted.

“But I always had conviction that what I was doing was right. I made a lot of mistakes on the way as well but you learn from your mistakes and try to improve different aspects of what you do.

“This year I think I was better than I was last year so next year I have to be better again. You have to continuously look to learn and that’s the way I do it.”

Kenny admits that managing his country wasn’t “always a realistic goal” and he has had his disappointments most notably when his Dunfermline side was relegated from the Scottish Premier League in 2007. But his stock rose with each of the four league titles he won with Dundalk and it rose further still with ‘The Town’s’ impressive runs in European competition.

“It’s not like I had a strategy to get me to where I could manage Ireland,” admitted Kenny who managed the county Louth side to the group stage of the Europa League in 2016.

“What I wanted was to get a team to qualify for the group stages of a European competition; that was the driver for me, to get to that level and the rest has followed obviously.

“I do look at the big picture and say: ‘How can I get there?’ But it wasn’t like that with the Ireland job, it wasn’t something I was firmly focused on.

“I was here for the Denmark play-off game, I’m here for all the games, and it was the best atmosphere I’ve experienced since they changed the stadium. It was incredible. Obviously the result didn’t go well but the atmosphere that day was just… It hasn’t left me and I knew then that this (managing Ireland) was what I wanted. I knew I would want that in the future.”

Many pundits, and fans, believed that Kenny would have been a better choice to take over from Martin O’Neill than Mick McCarthy. McCarthy will hold the reins until after the Euro 2020 Championships when, come what may, Kenny will take over. He is happy with that arrangement.

“The decision has been made,” he said.

“It’s clearly defined. I take over in August 2020. It’s a succession plan and that would be a great scenario for everyone, for football in Ireland that would be a great scenario.”

He added: “I wasn’t offered the position (as senior manager).

“I have a lot to learn. People in the FAI felt (I would be in a better position in two years) and I respect that. It’s a great position to be in.”

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