Stephen Kenny gets FAI backing as Luxembourg loss sinks in

Chairman and president both back manager despite home loss to side ranked 98th in the world

The setback suffered by Stephen Kenny and his Irish team against Luxembourg on Saturday night at an empty Aviva stadium is set to be discussed by the FAI's directors at a routine meeting on Monday, but both the board's chairman Roy Barrett and the association's president Gerry McAnaney were supportive of the manager on Sunday with the former suggesting that the 49-year-old is currently on course to have his contract renewed.

“My personal views are very supportive of Stephen, his team and what they’re trying to achieve,” said Barrett after an EGM held to vote through another substantial batch of governance reforms.

“What we had was just a poor result last night, a poor performance. That’s what it is. One game doesn’t make a swallow; equally one game isn’t going to throw everything in the air and shouldn’t.

“The only thing he [Kenny] should be worrying about now is Qatar and the match on Tuesday; that’s where the focus is at. The board, certainly up to now, has been very supportive as well and I don’t really see that changing. And personally I don’t think it should change.

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“There are going to be bumps on this road as we transition into the way Stephen and his team are trying to play; as we transition to a new generation of players who, in fairness to them all, have made very good accounts of themselves in the main I would have thought.

“There are always bumps in the road. But I think that Stephen and the team are committed. They are very resilient. There is good morale within the team and within the camp and what we’re talking about is a disappointing result. That’s all, in my view.”

The wider view of Kenny, the process he has embarked upon and his performance in the job, seemed more divided than ever in the wake of Saturday’s surprise defeat by Luxembourg, a team currently ranked 98th in the world with various pundits, and supporters on social media, adopting starkly different positions on whether he should get more time after failing to register a win in his first 10 games.

Immediately after Saturday night’s defeat Kenny himself said that the possibility he might not be allowed to see out his contract was: “not something I’m focusing on. From my point of view, I can’t affect that. We all have setbacks at various times and I have absolute conviction that I’m capable of doing a very good job here. But on this evidence that doesn’t back it up, I do realise that. We have to do a hell of a lot better than that.

“I have to accept the criticism, to be honest with you, that comes my way and fight harder to do better,” he said. “That’ll be my intention. We’ve given ourselves a lot to do, there’s no doubt about that.

“We’re unlikely, of course, to win the group but we still have to try to work hard to try to put ourselves in contention. The three games in September [against Portugal away then Azerbaijan and Serbia at home] will be very important, there will be nine points to play for so we’ve just got to try the maximum in that window.”

On the evidence so far, that would seem to be a tall order but McAnaney echoed Barrett’s support for Kenny, and suggested that the wider board appreciates the challenge involved in where he is trying to get to.

“It was a terribly disappointing last night [but] I think Stephen is trying to do the right thing,” he said. “He has introduced a lot of young players into the squad, blooded a lot of them, look at young Gavin [Bazunu] last night. All of these things are plusses. I know it’s hard to find a plus today but over Stephen’s tenure he’s tried to play the game the right way. Last night was one of those horrible nights but they happen.

“We, as a board, and as an association, we want our football, I want our football, to be played the way generally Stephen is trying to play it. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. I know it looks terrible today and it does look terrible today but yeah, I’d be positive, I would.”

Asked specifically if he would currently envisage Kenny’s contract being renewed at the end of the current campaign, Barrett was clear. “Yes is the answer. That’s on the assumption that we keep making progress along the way but in the normal course, to the extent that he does that and does that with this group of players . . . Why not?”

At the EGM, meanwhile, the changes to governance structures being championed by Barrett were adopted with only limited opposition materialising. The new constituencies for elections to the board were approved, although Stuart Gilhooly of the PFAI accused the association's leadership of "gerrymandering" at the meeting and subsequently described the consultation process carried out before the proposed changes were finalised as "shambolic".