FAI come under focus over timing of decision on Stephen Kenny’s future

Players and supporters have given a strong endorsement for manager to get new deal

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny and FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill at the Aviva Stadium back in July. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Besides the 12 people who matter the most and Liam Brady, the general consensus is that Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny's contract extension is now a matter of when not if.

Professional footballers can be a fickle bunch but this Irish squad have been unambiguous when it comes to Kenny leading them to the 2024 European Championships in Germany.

Up to and including Thursday's calculated draw with Portugal, the system and style Kenny has introduced, so cleverly shaped by Chelsea coach Anthony Barry, is yielding a consistency of performance since the team broke an 11-match winless streak high up in the Pyrenees last summer.

That nervy 4-1 victory over Andorra launched a confidence building run of one defeat in nine, with the loss in Portugal last September down to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 96th-minute header. Granted, that performance was sullied three days later by drawing with Azerbaijan in Dublin but ever since it has been an upward trajectory.


"Listen," commanded Shane Duffy, the de facto player spokesman post match, "if you don't think we are going in the right way you are writing the wrong stuff. We're [aligned] in the right direction, with the football we are playing and the fans are excited.

“I think it’s obvious that we love playing under Stephen. There is so much fight for the manager and every single one of us in there is fighting for him.”

Ireland landed in Luxembourg on Friday without the services of Matt Doherty, who is suspended after a late yellow card against Portugal, with the injured Jayson Molumby replaced by Peterborough United's uncapped midfielder Jack Taylor, while Andrew Omobamidele travelled despite a sore Achilles tendon.

It remains unclear when the newly constructed FAI board will convene but it has become apparent that this is now an exercise in public relations. Wait too long and they will look uncertain, jump the gun and they will suffer the ire of Brady who told the country on RTÉ after Thursday’s “damp squib” that they should wait until the 50-year-old Dubliner’s contract expires next July.

That would be bad business for the FAI, naive PR and unacceptable to anyone who witnessed the scenes in and around Lansdowne Road over the last two matches.

The tide has most certainly turned, with Josh Cullen, the 25-year-old Anderlecht midfielder and increasingly influential figure at the core of Kenny's ball-playing revolution, already stating that a new contract is a "straight forward" call for FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill.

Several of this modern day board might feel that their lack of football knowledge demands silence, but Hill and chairman Roy Barrett will have a major say. The English executive does offer a heavyweight commercial background that includes coining the phrase "football comes home" before Euro '96 – although The Lightning Seeds may contest this – when he was the FA's marketing manager.

The new make-up of the board also indicates that Packie Bonner’s opinion as chair of the International and High Performance committee will carry significant weight. That and the 80 caps the Donegal goalkeeper accumulated, while featuring at three major tournaments, guarantees the non-football people involved in the process will hang on his every word.

Hill has already proved adept at noticing which way the wind blows, especially when it came to the easy win of equal pay for senior male and female players. Perhaps he’ll see the benefit of calling a press conference next week to feel the glow of Kenny’s popularity after a tumultuous 14 months for everyone. It would certainly take the focus off an ongoing row with the association’s Siptu members and his search for a blue chip jersey sponsor. However, it is more likely to happen when the board meet for their usual monthly sitting in late November.

FAI president Gerry McAnaney, vice-president Paul Cooke, and the others who have been dedicated to Irish football for decades would have noticed the vibe that Brady and Didi Hamann have repeatedly dismissed due to the lack of a major scalp.

Everyone is understandably keeping their powder dry until the result of Sunday’s third-place playoff in Luxembourg but last month McAnaney told reporters at an event in Windsor Park of all places that “things are moving on”.

“All you have to do is look on the pitch at what 25,000 people [present for the 4-0 defeat of Qatar] will tell you. Everything like that makes a difference. There was positivity. It was there for everyone to see.”

All this indicates a heavy lean towards Kenny getting a fresh deal, currently he is paid around €500,000 a year, which is significantly less than his predecessors. Such a decision would lift the focus on Hill, Barrett, Bonner and heap pressure on Kenny to deliver his stated aim of winning next year’s Nations League.

Fittingly, the next expedition begins at the foot the Alps as the draw for that tournament, which could mean facing Ukraine, Sweden and Scotland, takes place on December 16th in Montreux, Switzerland.

FAI board: Gerry McAnaney (president), Paul Cooke (vice-president), Roy Barrett (independent chairman), Packie Bonner, Tom Browne, Catherine Guy, John Finnegan, Liz Joyce, Joe O'Brien, Richard Shakespeare, Gary Twohig, Robert Watt.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent