Don't write off Stephen Kenny or our World Cup bid: Republic of Ireland's Dara O'Shea
REPUBLIC of Ireland defender Dara O'Shea has hailed under-fire manager Stephen Kenny as a “great manager and tactician” and says the team still believes they have a shot at 2022 World Cup qualification.
The Irish have yet to experience that winning feeling under Kenny after Tuesday night's 1-1 draw with Qatar in Debrecen which sees their winless streak stretch to 11 games.
Following back-to-back losses to Serbia and Luxembourg in Group A, the Republic have a mountain to climb to get back in contention, and the gradient doesn't get any easier when qualification resumes in September with a triple-header against Portugal (a), Azerbaijan (h) and Serbia (h).
Ex-internationals Richard Dunne and Tony Cascarino have issued stinging criticism of Kenny who stepped up from the U21s last year after Mick McCarthy's tenure ended earlier than expected because of the pandemic.
“Stephen has been great and I have no bad words to say about him,” said O'Shea, who was arguably the best Irish performer in this international window.
“He came in with the 21s when I was there. Us as players in the 21s group, we really bought into it and it was amazing for us to have a manager who was going to step up to the first team.
“He has taken to the job really well here and has been the exact same. It has been tough with injuries and through COVID and different things like that, there have been different barriers in the way.
“But, as a group, everyone is behind him. We all really like the way he plays and the way he is with us. He is a great manager and a great tactician and I think he's just been unlucky.”
The West Bromwich Albion man added: “We are definitely moving in the right direction. I think the way the management and the staff have implemented their ways is something that people should be looking forward to and like watching but it's going to take time. It's obviously the first time that we've done this as a group so it's a work-in-progress.”
The vast majority of Irish supporters have already resigned themselves to this qualification campaign being one of transition, especially with just one automatic berth to the finals available and second place only guaranteeing a difficult play-off route to the Qatari finals.
It would take a remarkable run of results for Kenny's men to mount a challenge in Group A, starting with avoiding defeat in Portugal on September 1.
“I don't think anyone can write us off as such,” O'Shea said of Ireland's World Cup prospects.
“We haven't got off to the start we wanted. That's it now, it's behind us and we have to look forward. We can't dwell on it.
“The other night was tough [against Luxembourg] for each and every one of us to take, but I don't think you can write us off. There are a lot of games still to be played.
“I think in international football that anything can happen as you saw the other night and it's definitely still a possibility.”
Between international windows, the manager had to source two new coaches after Damien Duff and Alan Kelly walked out.
Former Irish international goalkeeper Dean Kiely replaced Kelly while Chelsea first team coach Anthony Barry assumed Duff's role.
Ireland's goal against Qatar came from a rehearsed training ground drill in which Barry had worked on.
“They have both been great,” O'Shea said of Barry and Kiely.
“They both expressed their views and came up with some excellent ideas and everyone was listening and learned. When you get two new faces in, it's like a breath of fresh air in a sense. The way they conducted themselves and the information they gave us was top drawer. They are both elite coaches.”