Stephen Kenny has described the decision to leave League of Ireland champions Dundalk to take over the Irish under-21s with progression to the senior job guaranteed in August 2020 as a "real wrench," but says that the opportunity was simply impossible to refuse.
“We had unprecedented success. The players and the staff were amazing, the supporters, the town, it was a real privilege to be part of all of that.
“It was hard to leave it particularly with the Champions League seeding for next season. To make the decision to leave it had to be something special, but this really is something special, but this was an unbelievable opportunity, one that you just couldn’t turn down.
"I think, the club is in a really strong place, though. The players from last season are virtually all signed up for next season and there is a great leadership group there, Vinny Perth, the assistant manager, Ruaidhrí Higgins, the captain Stephen O'Donnell and Brian Gartland and they will have great success.
“I had tremendous relationships there at all levels,” he continued. “But the international team is a huge honour, it something you just can’t turn down. It’s something that has to be grabbed.”
He was, he said, “delighted” to have grabbed it now but admitted that he couldn’t have imagined the way that things have turned out as he embarked upon a management career that: “hadn’t always been an upward curve”.
“I have a lot to learn,” he admitted, “and I think that over the next period, the year and a half to two years I have a great opportunity to learn, first of all from the current senior manager, from Mick McCarthy, who has a lot of experience, but I will also have to opportunity to travel, to go and look at other teams and how they do things.”
His most immediate focus with be on the under-21 team itself which, he hopes, can start to win more games and maybe qualify for a European Championships for the first ever time. However, the aim, is to be a productive part of the process while learning all that can so as to better equip himself for the bigger job to come.
“It’s all part of Ruud Dokter’s vision for the future of Irish football and I’m now part of that: to nurture and develop, to help inspire the next generation of players for the future of Irish football.
“Ruud has such a wide brief as technical director; he can’t be everywhere and so there had to be a collective effort.
“We’ll all work together to try to improve the player. The under-21s have never qualified so obviously that’s something to aim for but hopefully some of the players will come in and do well enough for Mick to select them; that would be on the hopes.”
He is, he says, still getting to grips with the logistics of it all right now but he hopes to be at the under-21 draw on December 12th. “It’s a huge privilege and I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get started.”