An impressive end to Qualifying leaves the FAI with much to ponder

9 October 2021; Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is interviewed after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match between Azerbaijan and Republic of Ireland at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The curtain closes on another unsuccessful qualifying campaign as the boys in green finish third, eight points adrift of a playoff spot. Despite the disappointment, there’s reason for optimism after a positive week for Stephen Kenny’s men with a goalless draw at home against Portugal and a convincing 3-0 win in Luxembourg. The question is, what’s next for Kenny and his young squad?


During the darker times of the March internationals, there was a genuine belief amongst many, that Kenny was out of his depth and should be sacked. After an embarrassing defeat against Luxembourg, Kenny was without a win in his first 10 games as Republic of Ireland manager and 0 for 2 in World Cup qualifying. The former Dundalk manager looked distraught in some of his post match interviews and was probably starting to believe that he was indeed out of his depth.


Nevertheless, a 4-1 thrashing of Andorra in June gave Kenny his first win. This was followed up by a heartbreaking defeat to Portugal when Ronaldo, well, did what Ronaldo does. Back to back 1-1 draws against Azerbaijan and Serbia in Dublin ended our playoff hopes but there was a growing belief amongst players and staff that things were beginning to click with improved performances. The following month, their belief was matched with convincing 3-0 and 4-0 wins against Azerbaijan and Qatar respectively. 


This brings us up to the recent internationals where Ronaldo and Co. limped out of Dublin town with a point, while Luxembourg were thumped by Kenny’s roadrunners. The question now stands. With Kenny’s contract expiring after UEFA’s next edition of the Nations league, does he warrant a new contract? Well, it’s more complicated than ‘Yes or No’ due to the surrounding permutations.


Kenny has built a young and exciting squad over the past year, so surely he warrants a chance to lead them into Euro 2024 qualification with another 2-3 years of experience at international level for these young players. On the other hand, as Liam Brady said on RTÉ, what harm is it to wait it out until the end of his contract and assess the situation then. He’s got a point. What if the FAI give him a new contract and he loses all 6 games in the Nations League, or does poorly and finishes rock bottom? Do we still trust the process then?


Whatever the case may be, the FAI have work to do as International football, thankfully, takes a back seat for a few months. Stephen Kenny has turned it around and to be fair, I don’t think there has been this much excitement around an Irish team for a long time.


Stephen Reynolds

Image Credit: SportsFile