John Duggan writes that Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny holds the biggest job in Irish sport, and he deserves the chance to be successful at it...
It's not good when you pick up the English Times, a distinguished newspaper, and read that Stephen Kenny's position as Republic of Ireland manager is under 'serious threat'.
That's how potentially harmful the leak was about the motivational video and speech Kenny presented to the squad and backroom staff before the friendly match against England at Wembley last week.
If there was disquiet, and if anyone was upset by the connotations in the montage, then surely that could have been handled internally. What goes on behind the scenes should be sacrosanct. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Sports teams rely on motivation, and sometimes this is expressed via being part of a tribe. It's not always literal. An appeal to patriotism doesn't sound like a new concept; 'Sean South from Garryowen' was played on the Irish team bus in the past. If we had beaten Slovakia and Northern Ireland, or if we had made pot two for the World Cup draw, this would not be a story for the front and back pages.
I haven't seen the video, but I find it somewhat bemusing that it offended someone to the extent that they raised it with FAI administrators. Nor should it, or will it - I expect, place Kenny's job in jeopardy. There is a touch of embarrassment now following the leak to the Daily Mail; the new FAI CEO, Jonathan Hill, is English, and the English FA looked after the Republic of Ireland's accommodation and training arrangements last week.
This is not about the video though. There is a bigger issue at play, and to me, that seems to be politics around the manager himself.
The success of Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland team and how it placed our small country on the global stage, arguably for the first-ever time since independence, has a deep-seated legacy. It's the legacy of Robbie Keane and Damien Duff taking up the game and making it across the water. It's the legacy of soccer being the leading team participation sport in Ireland. It's the legacy of our knowledge that doing well in international football captures the nation's attention. In the last decade or so, the Thierry Henry handball incident, Shane Long's winner against world champions Germany and Robbie Brady's goal in Lille at Euro 2016 have been significant moments in Irish sport. One only has to look at the television ratings when the Boys in Green are playing and there is something on the line. They are astronomical.
So Stephen Kenny has the biggest job in Irish sport. And so far, he's been dealt an awful hand. Eight matches, no wins, no goals in seven. One can legitimately point to the plethora of injuries and COVID-related mishaps that Kenny has had to deal with. Also, he hasn't been able to put in the groundwork in the UK, nor have there been crowds at Lansdowne Road to lift our spirits. Because it's not like our spirits are high as a kite during a pandemic.
Instead, it's the cold reality of results that may make Kenny's Christmas dinner taste a little less satisfying than it should. The Dublin native inherited a squad that is technically inferior to many European sides. His football philosophy is a breath of fresh air and he needs the time to carve out a Republic of Ireland team in his own vision. The performance in Slovakia was the best example of how that could unfold.
However, disappointing results get people talking, because it's the top gig. The FAI is not exactly flush and it needs sponsors back. It needs good times to roll again. Not everyone in football is a fan of Stephen Kenny. Some former players and fans may want someone else. Mick McCarthy wasn't universally popular, nor was Martin O'Neill. It's always the way. That's natural. What takes care of chatter is winning matches.
What Kenny could do with now though, more than results, is a united front. People on his side, publicly. He needs the likes of captain Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Shane Duffy, and Damien Duff fighting his corner.
That's required, because if there are people out there unhappy Kenny has the biggest job in Irish sport, they should be reminded that he deserves a full campaign. Mick McCarthy got three, first time around. Brian Kerr received a full crack at World Cup qualification. Even Steve Staunton was afforded a proper European Championship campaign.
We all need a reset in society and Stephen Kenny deserves a reset next March. Only at the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign can the FAI reasonably judge if he's the man beyond that. Let's all have some common sense and give him our backing.