Three-game window in September could prove make-or-break for Kenny
Manager must trust his young players’ progress can be franked by the required results
Stephen Kenny: “The squad that we have and the squad that we are building, the ethos is very important going forward.” Photograph: Trenka Atilla/PA
What Stephen Kenny wants and what Stephen Kenny gets are probably never going to align during his tenure as Republic of Ireland manager. Perhaps, come September, the results he needs to keep the job for a second campaign will come to pass.
That would mean the names included in this article are ringing around the watering holes that flow onto Lansdowne Road.
Ideally, after 10 days moving from the Pyrenees to Budapest, a fluid 4-3-3 formation, that can morph into 3-4-1-2 at a moment’s notice, is ingrained in this young group.
What Kenny needs next is the sight of Aaron Connolly hounding Portuguese defenders, daring enough to play from the back as Irish players have struggled to do.
He also needs Troy Parrott and Adam Idah to find pre-season form in Tottenham and Norwich City colours, to formally announce themselves as bona fide Premier League strikers, just in time for a Euros-weary Portugal on September 1st.
Imagine Séamus Coleman and Matt Doherty taking turns haring down the right as Callum O’Dowda makes the left flank his fiefdom. In a perfect world a healthy Robbie Brady commences a veterans’ duel with James McClean to be O’Dowda’s wing man.
Perhaps Chiedozie Ogbene will become the cult hero everyone craves; a roving speed merchant who comes into games late on to scare full backs into error. And by then Jason Knight might consider himself the heartbeat of the team, while Shane Duffy and John Egan offer solidity and a set piece threat in equal measure.
Kenny believes his kids are maturing into a collective force but such a happening remains in the lap of the English club system.
“We’ve given 13 players their debut and there are more of those to come through,” said Kenny before that number swelled to 16 debuts on Tuesday night.
“Over the next few years there will be a really strong cohort of players coming through and for the next European Championships a lot of them will have 10 or 15 caps under their belt.
“The Irish public will identify with these players and when they are successful, there will be a great connection there I feel.
“A great connection,” he repeated with emotion, “very powerful.”
Maybe so, but there is so much Kenny does not and cannot control. He briefly stalled over the future of another pair of Premier League strikers in waiting, as Dubliners Mipo Odubeko at West Ham United and Michael Obafemi at Southampton consider career options outside the FAI tent.
At any moment Odubeko or Obafemi could start scoring goals. Same goes for Idah or Parrott. At any second, the worm could turn for an Irish generation desperate to shake off a reputation for existing on the fuel of courage rather than accuracy.
Glass half full, Kenny’s Ireland are unbeaten in three games. Half empty, they have one win from 13. Six qualifiers between September and November could smash the glass or fill it up.
At least the current Irish players know how their manager feels about fielding a team that reflects the diversity on the island. At least they took a unified stance to kneel in the face of a raucous Hungarian crowd.
Whatever happens away to Portugal, only victories over Azerbaijan and Serbia at a noisy Aviva Stadium can alter the negative perception of Kenny created during the past 14 months.
For what he lacks in external support, especially from a cohort of ex-internationals who will never rate League of Ireland success, the 49-year-old has gained in player loyalty.
“He has been great with me,” said Shane Duffy after the Derry man suffered a miserable 12 months on and off the pitch. “We talked quite often during the season, we have calls all the time.
“I’m realistic as well. I’m not stupid coming in here. I haven’t kicked a ball for Celtic since February, and I’m grateful he has picked me because I feel I can bring something to the squad.
“We sit down and talk about it. It’s never been about me but about doing my best for this team, and if that’s on the bench or around the squad, that’s what I will do.
“We have a great relationship and everyone in the squad has that relationship, where you can sit down and talk to him about anything and he’s always there for you.”
Presuming Duffy just unveiled the squad’s private belief system, and that they trust what Kenny, Keith Andrews, Dean Kiely and Anthony Barry are drilling into them, all this loyalty should convert into some luck the next time Ogbene ghosts into the box or Idah takes aim.
Above all else the June window confirmed that Ireland possesses three international-calibre goalkeepers with Gavin Bazunu set to follow Shay Given’s teenage bow as the undisputed number one.
If Darren Randolph and Caoimhín Kelleher were not feeling the urgency to command regular game time at West Ham, Liverpool or somewhere else on loan, then the rise of Bazunu will have removed any ambiguity.
“The squad that we have and the squad that we are building, the ethos is very important going forward whether the players are playing or not playing,” said Kenny. “We need this collective will, particularly with the three-game window [in September] in six days.”
There is equal scope for regression, collapse even. But Kenny’s role demands the security of positive results so he can focus on turning his grand designs for Irish football into reality.