As we settle back into club football again, the promising performances and good results will be quickly forgotten until the next international break. Stephen Kenny’s first competitive win would have been a sigh of relief for the Dublin man and his management team as the side looked to build upon their promising showing against Portugal. As Kenny prepares for November and the visit of Portugal to the Aviva and the plan to avenge the earlier defeat to Luxembourg, a discussion over his contract will be key within the FAI.
The opinion in Ireland among fans is split whether to extend Kenny’s contract. The Kenny doubters will point to the failure to win a game until they beat Andorra 4-1 in a friendly on his twelfth game in charge, and his first competitive win coming five games later against Azerbaijan. For many Irish supporters, this is not acceptable, and the embarrassing loss to Luxembourg did not help endear Kenny to these fans. Looking at this argument on paper you can see its validity.
However, many Irish fans will look at the recent performances since the Andorra game and take many positives. Ireland have only lost one game since that victory in Andorra, even then coming agonisingly close to securing a result in that fixture against Portugal. In the last two international breaks, the side looks to have a set system of play and a squad that are buying into it. The tactics, although at times have their flaws, have brought about the wins and performances that have brought some optimism to Irish fans about the country’s future.
Looking towards Ireland’s future, Kenny has provided chances for young players to gain international experience in the hope that these players can be vital to the future of Irish football. Gavin Bazunu, Adam Idah and Andrew Omobamidele have all displayed the potential success our national team could have in qualifying and competing within future World Cups, European Championships and Nations League campaigns. This gamble has seen some reward, however for this to succeed Kenny needs these players to be gaining first-team experience at club level to further develop their blossoming talent that is so evident to see in their recent performances.
To any doubters of the positive steps Kenny’s reign has had, I would encourage them to take a look at the success of Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland team. Upon his appointment in 2011, there was little to no optimism about the future of the Northern Irish side and the potential of the nation qualifying for international tournaments due to the last international tournament the nation reached was the World Cup in 1986, prior to their Euro 2016 qualification.
Northern Ireland’s first campaign under O’Neill saw them secure one win from all competitive and friendly games, finishing second bottom of their group with seven points. Many in Northern Ireland were calling for a change of manager, however, the board continued with O’Neill as there were signs of improvement late in the qualifying campaign. O’Neill used this campaign to discover a style of play and a core within the squad in which to build around. The next campaign went about as good as it could have gone with Northern Ireland finishing top of their qualifying group, qualifying automatically for Euro 2016. This success was allowed to occur due to the IFA allowing O’Neill to continue even after results would have encouraged them to bring about change in the search for more positive results.
I mention this example as the early reign of O’Neill is eerily similar to Kenny’s reign so far, and if allowed to continue to build on this recent success and positivity we could be looking at a similar successful campaign to that of Northern Ireland in 2016.
The stability, positivity and confidence amongst the side should bring about a contract extension for Kenny, allowing him to build on the recent results for the European Championship campaign for Germany 2024.
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