On Thursday, Stephen Kenny was unveiled as the new Irish manager following Mick McCarthy’s decision to step away from the role last week.
Kenny was always part of the FAI’s succession plan, and found himself thrust into the big job perhaps a little earlier than expected following the Covid-19 crisis which has caused chaos in the sporting world.
He will now take charge of Ireland’s European Championship playoff against Slovakia in addition to their UEFA Nations League games and World Cup qualifiers set for later this year.
The former Dundalk boss spoke in depth to the media during his unveiling on a wide range of topics surrounding his appointment and his role going forward.
Here are five things we learned from Stephen Kenny’s first Irish press conference.
1) It’s as much about getting the most out of current players as it is promoting younger players
The initial excitement over Stephen Kenny’s appointment will no doubt have been spurred by his exceptional work with the Irish U21s over the past year.
Kenny has nurtured one of the most impressive group of youngsters Ireland has produced in many years and the expectation is that he will propel some into the first team at the beginning of his tenure with the senior side.
This could well be the case and it’s likely he does include the likes of Jayson Molumby, Dara O’Shea, Adam Idah. But for Kenny his remit is clearly as much about getting the best out of the players already at his disposal as much as anything.
“I think we have a lot of quality in our senior squad also. Our back four have been very consistent, and I think the addition of John Egan into the back four changes the dynamic of the back four
“We have a lot of talented players. It’s difficult to know why, for example, three years ago, someone like Robbie Brady was probably our most creative player and now, at times, hasn’t got into the 22.
“How has that happened? My job is to try and unlock the potential of the whole team and find the best way of doing that. That’s how I see my job. I’m really excited about it, and hugely honoured to be given the opportunity to do that. It is the ultimate honour “that you could have, and it’s a huge privilege. “
2) Damien Duff is going to have a huge part to play in the Kenny era
An exciting addition to the Irish backroom staff, Damien Duff, alongside Keith Andrews, will be Stephen Kenny’s assistant with Ireland.
Duff has widely been touted as an excellent coach during his time at both Shamrock Rovers and Celtic and it’s clear that he will have a huge part to play in the Kenny era.
The new Irish boss was quick to praise Duff’s work in coaching from the ground up, with he and Andrews’ modern thinking adding a lot to the management team.
“Damien done his pro licence initially. He started at the bottom by going in with the U15s at Shamrock Rovers, and the U15 international team as well, so he worked very hard for a long time.
“The thing about Keith and Damien, with technology changing so rapidly so has the job, they’re two modern-thinking coaches who both worked at club football and in the international setup.
“That year at Celtic will be of huge benefit to him, because they’ve had good results in Europe this year. He’s had to adapt tactically to all of those games. I feel he will be a very good addition.”
3) As expected, Ireland’s style of play will be very important to him
Kenny has become well-known for his eye-catching style of play with both Dundalk and the Irish U21’s in recent times and the general consensus is that he won’t change his philosophy when he starts work with the senior side.
The new Irish boss echoed those sentiments on Thursday, with quotes that will no doubt excite Irish fans who have long watched their side often opt for the more pragmatic approach in search of victory.
“I’ve only got one chance, it’s a short life. You’ve only got one opportunity here. I will ensure that I have conviction in the way I set the team up. Our ambition will be to dominate possession, and in a lot of the games we can’t promise we will always achieve that.
“But I want people to come to the Aviva Stadium and look forward to going and watching this team. Ideally I would want every schoolboy team looking at the senior international team and thinking ‘that’s how we want to play’. That’s what I would want.”
4) Seamus Coleman will be his captain but that doesn’t mean there is no place in the side for Matt Doherty
When a new manager takes charge they always bring a new style to the table, differences between them and the old regime, and it’s evident already that this will be the case under Kenny.
One thing that won’t change though, is the captain, who will be Seamus Coleman, with Kenny outlining that the Everton full-back is the only player he has spoken to so far from the senior squad.
“I’ve just spoken to one player, and that’s Seamus Coleman, the captain. Because one thing I try to do is to treat everyone equally – it’s important. I don’t want to be ringing some players and not others.
“That will all come in due time. I spoke to Seamus as captain, and Seamus alerted players that I’ve been in touch and we’ll be in touch in due course.”
Kenny also indicated that instead of it being a Matt Doherty vs Seamus Coleman dilemma, it should largely be a case of trying to get both players into the starting XI given their quality.
“It’s not been a Matt Doherty, Seamus Coleman battle because Matt Doherty can play left back or right back and has played in advanced positions as well and other players have played in those positions ahead of Matt.”
5) Stephen Kenny will be his own man in this role, he won’t let others influence how he operates
It’s early days yet, but from some of Kenny’s first decisions as Irish manager have already proven that he will be his own man in this role.
It appears as though there will be no role for Robbie Keane, a Delaney hire from the McCarthy era, in his backroom staff despite the former striker still having two years left on his current contract, with Kenny explaining that he wanted his own management team.
“I have the height of respect for Robbie Keane, what he has achieved in his career is incredible. We don’t know each other that well, any time we have had conversations with each other we’ve got on fine, we’ve got on very well.
“As the manager you must have the right to pick your own backroom team, and it’s important there isn’t blurred lines in the roles, clearly defined roles are important.”
Kenny also spoke on the topic of player selection and outlined that although it’s important that his squad members play, he must be nuanced in how he looks at his pool of players.
“I think it’s important that you don’t let other people dictate your team as well and sometimes they do. Just because somebody gets an opportunity and another player doesn’t, does that mean he is rated above the player who didn’t get an opportunity?
“This is the dilemma. I don’t want to manage the Irish team based on a league table, a mathematical table based on who’s got a number of appearances for a certain club and therefore they should be in the team rather than someone who has less appearances for a different club.
“I don’t want to manage like that. I want to have a clear vision of what I want, and what players fit in to what I want. At the same time, you do need to play games, because if you don’t you lose your match fitness and you fall behind.”