Is the tide starting to turn for Stephen Kenny?
For a long time, Ireland boss Stephen Kenny may have been thinking that he would never see home fans in a stadium supporting his Ireland team, and for a while, that may have been a possibility.
And perhaps, as a result, it is no surprise whatsoever that the return of fans to stadia has brought about an upturn in form for Ireland, and some much-needed relief for Kenny.
The former Dundalk boss may be under pressure in terms of saving his job – well according to some quarters he may be – but it seems like the tide is finally start to turn in his favour.
Fans returning to stadia.
Shortly after taking charge of the Irish team, Kenny’s record, in terms of results at least, was dismal. He had to wait to record his first win away to Andorra in a friendly, after falling behind.
Perhaps then the questions surrounding his future were fair, and they may still be, but those questions look like they are being answered with conviction by those who can shape its course.
On Tuesday night, a crowd of 25,749 packed into the Aviva Stadium – a capacity crowd under current Covid-19 restrictions – and they responded to what they saw from their team.
What it’s all about 😍
— FAIreland ⚽️🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) October 12, 2021
While also playing an attractive brand of football for the most part, there is a real connection between this vibrant Irish team that looks reborn under Kenny.
Kenny is a builder, as seen with his prior stints with Dundalk, Derry City and Longford Town, so perhaps it is no surprise that he can build an identity of a team that supporters can buy into.
Yes, results help, but there is a will for this to work – and that is encouraging for Kenny and his backroom team.
As mentioned, Kenny is a builder, and Tuesday night was an indication of that – with the third goal symbolising that in spades.
Last month, the Ireland boss launched a passionate defence of his reign in charge of the Boys in Green as he declared that short-term thinking brought Irish football nowhere.
“I think there’s real progress overall to be honest,” he said prior to the Serbia game in September. “That’s the way I see it, the way my staff and all the coaches see it and there are a lot of people behind us..
Stephen Kenny's strong defence of his Ireland project (via @willocallaghan)
Everybody needs to listen to the last thirty seconds.
"Results business" / "all about winning the next game" commentary is very unhelpful at a time when we need radical change.pic.twitter.com/QUhkQo2SsX
— Kenny's Kids (@KennysKids) September 6, 2021
“There are a lot of people who aren’t [behind us] who say ‘that’s not your job to develop the game here, your job is just to win the next game’.
“That kind of near-sightedness doesn’t create anything, you might beat teams that you should beat but you’ll never beat the teams you strive to beat. You’re trying to build something tangible over a period of time and that can be successful.”
On Tuesday night, that long-term vision began to bear fruit. 39 passes in total, with one killer ball from Jeff Hendrick and then a goal from Callum Robinson. It has been coming.
What a fantastic goal! Callum Robinson slides home to complete his hat-trick after a lovely Ireland move.
Personal computer https://t.co/ji74HIr1GO
Radio https://t.co/k385JrUVqr #RTEsoccer pic.twitter.com/fxedbnyqYw
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) October 12, 2021
For anyone who was in the ground on Tuesday night, there was a buzz and excitement about the place. Couple that with a dynamic team and attractive style of play, this naturally added to the fervour.
Stephen Kenny: "It was a very good performance today, the players were excellent. We're evolving as a team and we still have a lot of improving to do.. We were under a lot of pressure going into last week and the attitude from them all was first class."
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) October 12, 2021
As said by Kenny on Tuesday night, this Ireland side is evolving, and will continue to do that in the near future, but he has his eyes set on success in Nations League.
“In all seriousness, when we were marking out medium and long-term strategies for the team, I knew that the team would start to take shape for the Nations League in June,” he said during his post-match press conference on Tuesday.
“There are four matches, and our ambition is to win the group because that gives you a European playoff. We’ll be taking the Nations League extremely seriously.. We have a determination to win the group.
“If we apply ourselves and improve, and continue to improve we’ll give ourselves every chance. We will strive to do that and I think that’s realistic.”
“There’s Only One Stephen Kenny”
Football is a fickle game with results changing mindsets constantly, and that is no different when it comes to football in this country.
During a weekend when the FAI celebrated their centenary anniversary, it felt apt that there remained a civil war within the ‘football family’, if you could call it that.
This time, however, it’s different. Rather than being a political war, this is a culture war of sorts as Kenny looks to break the mould of what went on before him in terms of style of play.
There are two extremes, however, with little scope for any sort of a middle ground to be had as Kenny looks to forge his own path for success – as the noise from both sides of the fence became more entrenched during the last couple of international windows.
Whether he manages to do that remains to be seen. Realistically, two wins against Qatar and Azerbaijan won’t change much, for now at least.
But what it has given to the masses is hope, as a fervent Aviva Stadium crowd left in unison that there was “only one Stephen Kenny.”