The FAI’s leadership will convene on Sunday for an EGM intended to be another staging post in the ongoing process of governance reform but a good deal of the chat is now bound to turn to the fortunes of the national team and how it is being run.
Asked if he worries now about keeping his job after the shock home defeat by Luxembourg, Stephen Kenny said he doesn’t but with so much riding financially for the association on whether the men’s team makes it to major tournaments, the board is inevitably going to have to take stock of the situation.
Qualification for Qatar in 2022, always something of an outside chance given Ireland’s record in the competition, the team’s ranking and the limited number of places up for grabs in the European groups and play-offs, looks a decidedly remote prospect after just two games.
The question for the association to address, though, will be whether Kenny, who has been terribly unfortunate with injuries and other issues but whose side still performed very poorly on Saturday, can turn things around and how long he should be given to do so.
The team has another game on Tuesday, a friendly with Qatar, and though it is ostensibly meaningless, the lack of a single win in the 10 games since he took over lends it a fair bit of significance from the manager’s perspective.
The Dubliner brushed off a question after the 1-0 defeat in Lansdowne Road regarding what support he continues to enjoy from his players, saying simply that it wasn’t an issue. Indeed, a number of them had said they should take the blame for what had gone on out on the pitch. In international football, though, it doesn’t quite work like that and Kenny accepted responsibility for the key decisions he had made, both in terms of tactics and team selections.
“We’re very disappointed to lose the game, we can’t get away from that, there’s no point hiding from it, it’s obvious,” he said. “The morale was good going into the game, the attitude was good, they were determined to get a result. It wasn’t complacency. We knew Luxembourg had pushed Ukraine tight last year; they’d done well and taken points in the Nations League.
“We weren’t complacent in a way but it ended up being an even match which was very disappointing. We had more of the play. We thought James (Collins) had scored, what would have been an outstanding team goal but we didn’t create enough to be honest. We’re very disappointed, to say the least.
“I take responsibility,” he continued after having been asked about the switch to 3-4-1-2 for the Serbia game and the retention of it here. “I introduced a formation and we’ve no points after two games and I’m not getting away from that. I have to accept responsibility for that.
“The performance in Serbia was really good, the two European play-off performances and that were two good performances. We needed to back that up tonight, though, and we didn’t which it’s a disappointing result to say the least. We wanted to win, though. We are desperate to win. It was one of those tonight where we needed to get that first goal and we didn't do that and we got punished.”
Team captain Seamus Coleman described this performance as “embarrassing,” afterwards and there is bound to be huge frustration among fans, whether they believe in what Kenny has been trying to do or not, over the quality of the performance here.
Ireland’s next qualifying game is at the start of September when Kenny and his players face the prospect of taking on top seeds Portugal away still searching for a first positive result after which they play Azerbaijan at home.
The team must endure the five months until then with no points in the group table. There are more than enough up for grabs after that to transform the situation just little enough evidence at this stage that that is actually likely to happen.
Kenny was hired on a manifesto of changing the team’s style of play and progress has clearly been made on that front but the ongoing lack of positive results suggests it has come at a high cost and lent weight to those who have argued that Ireland simply do not have the players to thrive while trying to play technically better football.
The intention was that the tactical transformation would tie into a rejuvenation of the side through the introduction of promising young players and a greater integration between the senior sides and the wider game in Ireland.
The team is certainly more youthful but the results are clearly an issue and Kenny will have to hope that his employers retain their stated faith with the overall “project”.