Undeterred Stephen Kenny has the courage of his convictions

It’s been a tough start but the Republic’s manager is keeping the faith

Irish football manager Stephen Kenny may have just experienced what the financials call a dead cat bounce.

That is a short-term recovery in a declining trend that does not indicate a reversal of the downward trend. A defeat to Luxemburg followed by a draw against Qatar could be construed as a bounce of sorts.

One of the reasons for a dead cat bounce is that investors believe the bottom has been reached. There are not many who dispute that Luxemburg was probably the bottom. Then, there is only one way to go. Of course, the dead cat bounce is an illusion of an upward trend and the downward spiral continues.

Coming in the same week as the documentary Finding Jack Charlton was screened and we were reminded of the benchmark against which all Irish football performances will forever be measured against the reality of what it is Kenny currently has.

But far from apologetic or deflated, just six months in and Kenny emerged fighting from the Qatar game strafing the room with defiance. Not at all the empty husk of a defeated manager.

He gave an idea of what he has been trying to do with the Irish team and if it is patience he is looking for, then that’s what he deserves even if a World Cup qualification process has been blown.

“I’m happy with the evolution of the squad and the way it is going. Overall, I feel there’s an influx of a lot of talent together there. We’re implementing a completely new style, a brilliant culture in this team, a real togetherness. We just let ourselves down by not beating Luxemburg. We know that,” said Kenny.

Sure, FAI chairperson Roy Barrett issued a vote of confidence. But in the football manager's world that is not only a tricky thing to get right but possibly meaningless. It can be interpreted as exactly the opposite. To feel it has to be uttered in the first place is itself a reaction to the perception that five draws and six defeats is funky territory.

Kenny will also understand he is not the first manager to have heard knives sharpening so soon after beginning his tenure.

After taking over at Old Trafford in November 1986, Manchester United endured a long transitional period under Alex Ferguson as the club struggled to find consistency and improve beyond a mid-table level.

In December 1989, many of the team’s supporters were beginning to call for Ferguson to be sacked. Banners started to appear. “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap … ta-ra Fergie.” By then United were teetering on the edge of the relegation zone after a run of six defeats and two draws in eight games. But the club stuck by their under-pressure manager.

Earlier struggle

The history people remember Ferguson bequeathing to the club is not the early struggle but the 13 Premier League titles, two Champions League trophies and five FA Cups.

At Napoli, after years of working in the lower divisions of Italian football, Maurizio Sarri, who would end up at Chelsea, took his first high-profile managerial position when he was appointed manager in the summer of 2015.

It was a big gamble for a club of Napoli’s size and reputation to appoint a relative unknown. Napoli had finished in fifth place the previous season and were looking for a coach who could take them to the next level. Horror then as Napoli went on to win only one of their opening five league games before Sarri was able to turn things around.

Even Jurgen Klopp's overhaul of Liverpool did not take place overnight. After finishing 8th in 2015-16 and fourth the following year, critics took immense satisfaction in highlighting the fact that Klopp's early record at Anfield was hardly any better than his much-maligned predecessor Brendan Rodgers. All the grief arrived before he delivered the first English Premier League title in 30 years.

There are plenty of examples.

When Lee Johnson took over at Barnsley, he managed them to eight successive League One defeats, equalling the club's record. As well as that they were embarrassingly beaten by non-league Altrincham in the FA Cup in November 2015. But in the space of three months, Johnson took them from 22nd to 12th on the table.

The point is that managers do have influence and, as Kenny spells it out, he has decided to undertake root and branch refurbishment of the team. They are a project and, as he pointed out after the draw with Qatar, seven of the players had come through the Irish Under 21 team.

Undeterred, Kenny says he doesn’t care what people might think. He says it’s clear in his head, the path. He is taking this squad on a journey and maybe into a culture war, which are always won and lost in the minds of the players.

Some will take more convincing. Others will remain unconvinced and the strength of his persuasion will determine how long the process will take. Charlton undertook a brutal culture war with Liam Brady, who played a more beautiful game to the one Jack wanted him to play. Ultimately Brady lost.

Perhaps the one thing Kenny has in common with Charlton is an unflinching, somewhat bullheaded conviction. If he fails, he will happily go down without even a dead cat bounce. But with a clear mind, knowing he tried.