Stephen Kenny: Redefining what it means to be qualified for the Ireland job

Stephen Kenny’s knowledge of Irish football might be his greatest strength.

“Ogbene who he started last night, he’s from Cork, he’s nineteen!”. Few people knew much about Rotherham’s Chiedozie Ogbene (24) before 2021 and the ever reliable Eamon Dunphy highlighted that fact beautifully on the Late Late Show last November.

Now though, Ogbene enters 2022 as an Irish household favourite. The pacey winger brought a new dimension to Ireland’s play in the autumn and it seems as though that confidence has carried through to his club career.

The former Cork City and Limerick man has been receiving praise from Rotherham supporters online in recent weeks. They currently top the League One standings and operating at right-wing-back, Ogbene has played no small part.

He assisted a goal in Rotherham’s New Year’s Day defeat of Bolton and set up Ireland under-21 striker JJ Kayode three days later against Crewe Alexandra. Ireland’s next game might not be until March but Ogbene’s early year form is very promising.

Stephen Kenny worked hard to sort out Ogbene’s international paperwork soon after getting the Ireland gig. Those efforts were richly rewarded by a successful closing chapter to 2021 and could well continue to pay off in 2022.

Stephen Kenny’s ability to identify Irish talent

When Aaron Connolly failed to deliver for Ireland last year, other managers might have turned to Shane Long or phoned a certain Patrick Bamford to save the day.

Not Kenny. The Ireland boss reshaped his attack with Ogbene [Rotherham], Daryl Horgan [Wycombe Wanderers], and Jamie McGrath [St Mirren] rotating as effective support players for Adam Idah.

When Dara O’Shea pulled up in Faro other managers might have turned to the experienced Ciaran Clark. After failing to impress against Luxembourg, the Newcastle defender wasn’t even on Kenny’s bench.

Instead, 19-year-old Andrew Omobamidele was introduced for his Republic of Ireland debut and we all know how he has performed since.

No such thing as “the unknown” for Stephen Kenny

These decisions have sent Ireland on an exciting trajectory, and there is a confidence in the team; with supporters widely enthused by this influx of fresh faces.

Kenny’s knowledge of Ireland’s playing pool is impressive and it allows him to trust “the unknown”.

Gavin Bazunu was no unknown quantity to Kenny, nor were Jamie McGrath or Chiedozie Ogbene. It’s easier to trust inexperienced players when you are fully qualified on their strengths and weaknesses.

Where once Ireland managers treated the Premier League as their everything, Stephen Kenny’s knowledge, courage and conviction means he can confidently pick players from different leagues to carry out specific roles.

A good Ireland manager will look at the strengths of his players, not the names of their clubs. You won’t find Stephen Kenny complaining about the lack of Premier League quality available to him, that’s for sure.

Having top flight footballers at your disposal is desirable, but different players from different leagues with different strengths can solve different problems.

Stephen Kenny redefines what it means to be qualified for Ireland job

The ability to identify these players is aided when you have a background in the Irish domestic game, but Kenny’s full-time approach to the job at the FAI HQ also helps.

The manager already has a wealth of Irish football knowledge but that doesn’t stop himself, Keith Andrews and Stephen Rice from spending hours each week analysing Irish players across the UK and beyond.

For a country as small as Ireland, having a manager with that level of insight and dedication is essential.

Ireland does not have a playing pool like the top nations, which essentially means any resources at our disposal need to be fully utilized.

Kenny has capped sixteen new players in fifteen months, with many of them turning out to be key cogs in this revamped machine. Where Mick McCarthy turned to Glenn Whelan and David McGoldrick as the core figures of his Irish team, Kenny invested his belief in the unheralded and the inexperienced.

Questions were asked whether League of Ireland man Stephen Kenny was qualified enough for the Ireland job before he took the reins.

The points made were true – he never managed in the Premier League and he never truly proved himself outside of Ireland. It’s the criteria that was wrong.

A year and four months into his tenure, knowledge and diligence are looking more valuable than English football know-how will ever be.

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