Trouble lies ahead if Stephen Kenny can’t get his message through to Ireland’s players
Wanting and saying are failing to translate into doing after 12 matches in charge
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates after Troy Parrott scored his second goal during the friendly international against Andorra at the Estadi Nacional. Photograph: Sergio Ruiz/Inpho
Andorra’s Marc Vales celebrates scoring their first goal in front of Ireland’s James McClean. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Stephen Kenny is nothing like Hamlet’s brother Claudius, but he could still be hoisted by his own petard.
It may be a media driven instinct to lean on negatives over positives – plenty of both currently exist – but the circling criticism of Kenny’s tenure as Republic of Ireland manager gained pace despite Thursday’s 4-1 victory in Andorra.
Richie Sadlier, a long-time supporter of the Dubliner, pointed to the “fatigue” of the hosts, high up in their Pyrenees eagle’s nest, as a factor in this Troy Parrott-inspired Ireland win being flipped from a one-nil disaster approaching the hour mark into what appears, at least on the surface, as a comfortable result.
“Loads and loads of concerning aspects to the performance,” was Sadlier’s view on RTÉ. “When they ran out of steam we started looking like a team, but that is not enough.”
Irish centurion Kevin Kilbane believes there was “nothing to suggest that there’s been an improvement as it’s Andorra and they’re awful.”
More concerning are Kenny’s own words, pre- and post-match, especially how he played down the amount of time he has had with the group that gathered in Girona, Spain last weekend.
“It’s not something we had been focusing on, defending set pieces,” said Kenny when asked to address the unmarked Marc Vales headed goal. “We haven’t had that long, only four or five days and you have to give a day off in between that.”
Evidently, the Irish players did not practice the defence of crosses, with James McClean, a winger by trade, exposed at left back by Vales, nor did they mentally prepare for an ultra defensive opposition.
“We can’t train every day coming into a match so we haven’t been focusing on defending set pieces,” Kenny confirmed. “We’ve been working on the creative elements of our game, if we can, within the different systems. But it was a bad goal to concede and there is no getting away from that. It’s not like us to concede a goal like that from a wide free kick and I don’t like that.”
Also, a presumption of internal problems cannot be glossed over when the manager’s specific areas for improvement since last March become weaknesses against a team ranked 158th in the world. Kenny’s public demand on Wednesday, that his midfielders get their heads up and play “quicker” balls into attacking areas, was explained away by the team’s struggle to cope with Andorra’s high-press and parked-bus resistance.
“I wouldn’t say they bamboozled us,” he said. “Jason Knight is not a natural wide player I suppose and we didn’t have that cohesive movement between our midfield two.
“They were dropping into areas too deep to receive it, in the full back areas which sometimes can be very effective in controlling games against top-class opposition but against opposition that are sitting off you, it’s not effective.
“We needed to get Josh [Cullen] and Conor [Hourihane] in central areas and further up the park and play good, incisive passes into them and let them link with the attacking players like they did in the second half.”
As kick-off loomed, the former Dundalk coach gave an excuse-ridden interview to FAI TV about the absence of pace in the squad due to injuries to “the Connollys, the Robinsons, the O’Dowdas” which suggested his philosophy is built on this trio’s rapidity.
“So we got to find another way of playing,” said Kenny. “James Collins thrives off crosses. Certainly, if teams defend in a low block you want Matt Doherty and James McClean to offer a threat from right and left back, for sure, on the overlap. We want to get behind Andorra.”
Turns out, as Kenny later explained, that Knight was blocking Doherty’s “corridor” on the right wing, until the kink was ironed out at half-time.
When wanting and saying do not translate into doing, after 12 matches steering the big wheel, such considered sentences can and will be used against the manager. The Hungary match on Tuesday might clarify if Kenny was being ignored or the players are incapable of carrying out direct instructions.
On to Budapest and a legitimate international fixture on natural grass.
Changes to the starting XI are inevitable with Norwich City centre half Andrew Omobamidele and Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher strong contenders to makes their debuts.
The team could resemble the personnel on the field just after Knight made it 3-1. That would mean a start for the efficient, attack-minded Daryl Horgan, with Ryan Manning, Harry Arter and Adam Idah pushing hard to replace the ineffective McClean, Conor Hourihane and Collins.