Stephen Kenny in for ‘unprecedented’ first year as Ireland boss

New manager will face into 11 or 12 matches, all but one of which will be competitive

With up to nine games now scheduled for the senior national team between September and November and the start of the World Cup qualification campaign to come next spring, Stephen Kenny says that the coming year has has the potential to be an “incredible” year for Irish football.

Having been officially appointed to the Ireland manager’s job on Saturday when Mick McCarthy’s early departure was announced, Kenny said he was looking forward to working with a coaching staff that will include Damien Duff, Keith Andrews and the one prominent survivor from the previous set up, Alan Kelly.

McCarthy spoke to Kenny and Andrews on Sunday morning and wished the pair well, he said, with their time at the helm. He described his own departure, three months ahead of schedule because there were no games left to play as “the second best scenario possible,” in the circumstances as it leaves him open to other offers.

Kenny used his first interview in the job to express solidarity with frontline health workers in the current Covid-19 crisis describing the levels of sacrifice that they have displayed as “heroic”.


Warm tribute

He went on to pay a warm tribute to McCarthy and his coaching staff before speaking in glowing terms about both his own management team and the new set-up at under-21 level, which will be fronted up by his former assistant Jim Crawford as manager and John O’Shea.

Robbie Keane got a mention for his contribution over the past 17 months but there is no place for him in the new senior team set up and the FAI’s Interim CEO, Gary Owens, suggested that talks were ongoing with the country’s record goal scorer about the possibility of an alternative role at the association.

The 39 year-old’s future is certainly an issue as he is due to earn something close to €500,000 over the final two years of his four year contract and Owens did not sound like someone who had a suitable job at anything like that sort of level in mind.

Kenny, meanwhile, insisted that he and his family are not in “celebratory mode,” given all that is happening in wider society at the moment but he did sound excited about a first year in the job that will, as things stand, include 11 or 12 games, all but one of them competitive.

“It’s incredible really. Unprecedented. You’ve got the Euro playoffs against Slovakia, of course, and the Nations League... six games in the Nations League and also World Cup qualifiers this (coming) year. That’s never happened before where you’ve got Euro playoffs, Nations League and World Cup qualifiers in the same calendar year. Nine games between September and November is an incredible schedule. We have a lot to look forward to.

“There are better days ahead,” he promised a nation that is, like himself and his family, currently in lockdown.

The current restrictions will limit his ability to talk things through with current members of the current squad but the 48-year-old is understood to already have a good relationship with quite a few of them and the involvement of Duff and Andrews as well as the retention of Kelly are all expected to prove helpful as he makes the step up. Amid a good deal of anticipation about the style of football he will look to have the team play, there will also be huge interest in what changes he looks to make after what has been a very successful spell with the under-21s.

If the early start with the senior team came as a surprise then he didn’t give any hint of it. Those close to him had always been confident that the contractual situation put him in a very strong position should the succession schedule be called into question and despite an earlier suggestion that there might be talks of some kind, the new leadership of the FAI appears in the end to have just decided that there was nothing for it but to implement the arrangement they had inherited.

A three-man committee, comprised of Owens, chair of the board Roy Barrett and president Gerry McAnaney was appointed by the association’s board to address the situation two weeks ago. In reality, after the playoff games were pushed back last week beyond Kenny’s August 1st start date and almost certainly beyond the opening games of the Nations League campaign as well, plausible alternatives to implementing the handover as envisaged were few and far between. Ultimately, one source suggested: “we wanted to show that we honour contracts”.

Share the money

That, it seems, will extend to paying the €1.1 million McCarthy was promised when taking the job at the end of contract. The FAI is also understood to face the prospect of handing over the €1 million bonus he would have got for getting the team to the European Championships if they now qualify through the playoffs under Kenny. There is, however, also some suggestion that the two men might share the money in the event that the situation arises.

Over the longer term, of course, the changes will allow the association to dramatically rein in the huge amount of money that has been spent on the senior team’s management since the appointment of Giovanni Trapattoni in 2008. His salary, and Martin O’Neill’s, peaked at over €2 million while McCarthy’s came verfy close to that figure if the guaranteed bonus is factored in. Kenny will, it seems, be on €540,000.

The benefit of that will start to kick in next year when the association will also be boosted by the European Championships finally being played, whether Ireland qualifies or not, but Owens insists that the financial outlook is not quite as grim in the meantime as has been suggested by some and he insists that the extra autumn games will help.

“We were only assuming that we would have six games instead of nine in the last three months of the year,” he said. The hope is, he made clear, that the funds they generate will help to offset the delay in Euro 2020 related income.