Irish U21s manager Stephen Kenny admitted that it is “challenging times for everyone in Irish football” following the recent spate of controversies surrounding the FAI.
The association has come under intense scrutiny over the past number of months, stemming from The Sunday Times’ article exposing a bridging loan the CEO John Delaney gave to the FAI in April of 2018.
Since then Delaney has stepped away from his role, with state funding being suspended and a host of investigations taking place over the organisation’s governance issues.
Speaking on the difficulties within the FAI, Kenny outlined the positivity on the pitch, which has seen success for the 17s, 19s and U21s on the international stage, has been his main focus.
“I’ve just tried to focus on what I’m doing here myself and my work. I have to focus on the football.
“I haven’t been able to focus too much on what’s been happening although I have tried to get daily reports and so forth.
“It’s obviously challenging times for everyone in Irish football, there is no hiding from that. But for me with the football side, it’s been quite positive with the young players coming through.
“We had five Under-19s at the Toulon tournament and won the group against good teams that will be in next year’s Olympics.
“Tom Mohan has done brilliant with his team and the Under-19s, for the semi-finals. There is encouragement and you have to harness that.”
The signs on the field are indeed encouraging as Kenny outlined, but off-field, Irish football is facing trying times, with change needed in many aspects.
Kenny explained that he had been in attendance for part of the National League Strategic Planning weekend, and admitted that although he is a fan of new ideas, he wasn’t quite up to speed on the proposals of Niall Quinn and Kieran Lucid.
One area where Kenny does feel certainly needs improving however, is the government’s involvement in the domestic game and more specifically the lack of quality stadia for teams to play at in Ireland.
The former Dundalk and Derry boss used the example of a trip to Italy in which he observed the versatility of their stadia and outlined that the lack of locations here is a big issue in Irish football.
“I’ve always felt that the government were very light on involvement the league,” began Kenny.
“I felt that they could’ve made a greater contribution. It’s just the way the grant system is structured in Ireland and so forth. I think the stadium issue is a big issue for a lot of the clubs around the country.
“I’ve just been to Italy for the U21 European Championships, after Toulon I went there for a week and they can pick any stadium size, they can say ‘right we’ll have an U17s tournament in stadiums full of 10,000, or no we’ll have the U21s tournament in stadiums full of 20,000, we won’t go near the 40,000 seater stadiums we’ll stick to the 20,000.’
“So I went to Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Udine and Cesena, some great stadiums. Our second best stadium after the Aviva is Tallaght and there’s probably 90 stadiums in England better than that. That’s where we are. I think that’s a big issue for people to come in masses.”
Kenny’s views certainly have merit. An increase in the number of stadiums as well as the quality of the existing ones would be a big step in improving attendances as well as the view of the league as a product for potential new fans of the domestic game.
Even the stadium which currently plays host to the current league champions Dundalk is in need of improvement and fails to come across as a modern ground for those watching at home.
It’s a huge yet necessary step for the improvement of the Irish game.