Kenny’s Ireland; a team in rapid decline

Stephen Kenny during Ireland's draw at home against Azerbaijan

Following the utterly disappointing international break for the Boys in Green earlier this month, Stephen Kenny’s future as Ireland’s manager hangs in the balance of the ongoing World Cup Qualifiers.

Home draws against Serbia and Azerbaijan, defeat to Portugal, and a meaningless friendly win against Andorra leave Kenny with still one win as Republic of Ireland’s manager. So far, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has been non-committal when discussing about the manager’s future.

The game against Portugal provided Irish fans with some hope that perhaps corners had turned.  John Egan’s fantastic header, just before the half-time put Ireland ahead against the Portugal team with names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, and Diego Jota. They are giants of the game from the top Premiere clubs in comparison to the Irish starting eleven, which had players from clubs such as St. Mirren, Portsmouth and Sheffield United. David vs Goliath on paper.

At half-time on RTÉ, there was already talk of this being a famous  night for Irish football, but then the inevitable happened. A brace from Cristiano Ronaldo, after Ireland had sustained constant pressure from the Portuguese was a real kick in the teeth for the team. The overall reaction after the game was that of optimism and rightly so. Ireland had put in their best performance of the Kenny era unquestionably and were minutes away from a first competitive victory of the regime.

You would have then expected Ireland to kick on and comfortably beat Azerbaijan, a team ranked
well below them in the FIFA World Rankings. Despite having a buoyant home crowd behind them and dominating the game, Azerbaijan took the lead on the stroke of half-time.

 Ireland was then left chasing the game in the second half but with time running out, we’re still a goal down. What followed next seems to be a bit of a trend for this team and not exactly a good one. With minutes to go, yet another ball was hoofed into the box only for Shane Duffy to get on the end of it and equalise. A complete embarrassment was avoided, but it’s still humiliating for Ireland to draw against Azerbaijan.

Prior to the Serbia game a banner was unfurled in the crowd that read: ‘In Kenny we Trust’. Serbia
came to Dublin as firm favourites and dominated the game. The heroics of Gavin Bazunu and Andrew Omobamidele, two young players, kept Ireland in the game. The commentators that night were convinced that Ireland deserved their fortuitous late equaliser, I’m not sure they did. Let’s be honest they were completely and utterly battered.

These results leave Kenny’s Ireland hanging by a thread. While I see the temptation to sack him at the moment, the question has to be asked: Who will replace him? Chris Hughton? Neill Lennon? Robbie Keane? None of the potential successors being mentioned strike me as being much better than Kenny.

One thing is certain though, something needs to change. We are a team in rapid decline, who nobody, even the likes of Azerbaijan and Luxemburg don’t fear anymore. That’s simply not good enough.

Rory Cassidy

Image Credit: INPHO