Kenny breaks monotonous manager-reporter relationship in tactical breakdown

Ireland boss explains the importance of adapting formation to suit the opposition

Press conferences can be mind-numbing at the best of times - for all parties involved. Stephen Kenny understands the gig and embraces the need to answer the same questions for online, print, radio and television about a two-year contract extension that – all going well – takes the Republic of Ireland back to the future and a Euros in Germany, 36 years after Joxer went to Stuttgart.

Yesterday the 50-year-old Dubliner decided to briefly tear up the script and invite reporters deep into the unmapped corridors of the FAI offices in Abbotstown for no reason other than he could.

We shuffled into a small video room, dominated by this gargantuan flat screen, to witness the aftermath of the latest management meeting. Lithuanian starting XIs were plastered across the walls as the giant TV began rolling clips of positive build-up play from the recent World Cup qualification campaign. Except the angles were alien to what we are accustomed to seeing on television.

The point of this exercise was simple enough. Kenny could take off the public mask that he never appears comfortable wearing and reveal his calm, authoritative side.

“This is a bit off the cuff, not really planned,” he said, already in manager rather than media mode. “It is not me trying hard or anything. This is a small presentation we just had, looking at the highs and lows from a tactical point of view, not done from the TV lense.

“I just think it is interesting to see it; it gives a picture of the good and the bad from last year.”

A few reporters chirped up. When Andorra's Marc Vales took the lead last summer from a free kick, somebody wondered if John Egan was at fault.

“We don’t man mark on wide free kicks,” Kenny explained to the laymen. “We do for corners but not free kicks.”

Really, this was an opportunity to break the monotonous manager-reporter relationship and explain the origins of a 3-4-2-1 system that is invading Irish football at all levels.

"When we were in England last year at Wembley, we didn't have our strongest team out but in the second half they had 3-4-2-1 against us and they had Reece James and Saka as the wing backs, with Sancho and Grealish both flying as their two tens.

“We were a bit unbalanced but they forced us into a low block in our 4-3-2-1. We couldn’t get out of it in the second half, and after that I said: ‘Never ever again will that ever happen.’

“Ever,” he repeated. “Never will that happen again, never.

"We needed to change. We had the players to play three [at the back]. It suited the system we had. So we always press higher but we couldn't get near them so this system allows you to. And it is not a new system. Shamrock Rovers were using it three years ago, we haven't invented it."

The reporters are glued to the screen as Callum Robinson’s brilliant opening goal in Baku fills the room, with Kenny’s voice the soundtrack.

“That’s not to say we will never not play a back four because I don’t prefer this system to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. I don’t prefer one particular system, we just use whatever system best suits the players we have.”

What about a plan B when other teams start to figure Ireland out?

“I think we just need to get better at what we’re doing.”

After putting the World Cup 2022 campaign to bed, Kenny returned to the traditional media format where we learned that Derby County's Festy Ebosele, a 19 year old from Wexford, is faster than Chiedozie Ogbene. Which suggests he should be off to the World Indoors in Belgrade next week.

“Festy probably won’t be in the squad next week, to be honest, he’ll probably be with the under-21s, barring injuries, but how good he has been for Derby, he has been absolutely lightning, he’s quicker than Chiedozie. He’s rapid, he frightens defenders and I couldn’t have thought in November that he could be in contention in March.”

We also learned that while Gavin Bazunu remains Ireland's first choice goalkeeper, Bournemouth's Mark Travers could have played professional golf and Liverpool's Caoimhín Kelleher is a "laconic" character who turns shot stopping "into an art form." Yet Bazunu carries an "aura" that belies his 20 years.

“Gavin would have done well in life whatever he had done.”

There was no hard news. Finishing top of the Nations League Group B - a competition plunged into turmoil by Russia's invasion of Ukraine - could secure a play-off for the Euros in 2024. And Kenny believes the current crop of players didn't simply warm to his management style but, as modern professionals, they are happily consumed by a "cutting edge sports science team."

“I think that was Delaney’s office,” says one journalist as we strolled back into the daylight.

Turns out there was no mystery to the place, none at all.

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