Stephen Kenny – What next for the Ireland Boss?

Stephen Kenny and his Irish side’s latest international camp concluded with the end of the latest Nations League campaign. A campaign that saw his side get two wins, one draw and three losses has left some supporters with mixed opinions on Kenny’s future with the Boys in Green.

Ireland finished third in a group that was really there for the taking with the current squad at Kenny’s disposal. However, Stephen Kenny’s future does not appear to be in doubt as the contract extension that was given to him back in March of this year, keeping him in the job until Euro 2024 at the very earliest, clearly shows the trust the FAI still has in him to do the job.

Ireland sailed to a 2-0 lead against Armenia in the Aviva Stadium last Tuesday with a header from John Egan in the first half and another fine long-range goal in the second half from Michael Obafemi. The side looked to be comfortable, facing little threat from Armenia, until the 71st minute when Armenia struck back, scoring two goals in three minutes shocking the Irish players. A late controversial VAR call gave Ireland a penalty which Robbie Brady tucked away to secure Ireland an unconvincing 3-2 victory.

Despite the win, the glaring issues that have faced Kenny for much of his time as Ireland manager were seen again. Ireland clearly dominated the game yet relied on two set piece goals and another great moment of individuality from Obafemi. Even with the clear dominance in the game Ireland managed to give up yet another lead just like in games recently against Ukraine and Scotland.

Ireland’s struggle to keep a lead in many games could come down to the inexperience of many of the players, but this may also be something these young players have to go through first to find success in the future. The core of the squad has become much younger, and its clear Kenny wants to bring
through many of the players he coached at U21 level.

It is difficult to find a reason as to why Kenny may leave out the likes of Josh Cullen, Dara O’Shea, and Jason Knight, but many of these players have little to no experience at the higher level which some of their more senior teammates would be well used to. As promising as the idea of all of the up and coming Irish youth players sharing the pitch now sounds, it would be unrealistic to expect major results from them just yet as it’s clear this is a project that will take time.

In saying that, however, it would be ridiculous to say Ireland haven’t seen any growth under Stephen Kenny as it is clear results are going his way more often as of late than they were in his early days. The contrast in his style of possession-based play shows he has a clear identity in what he wants to do compared to what was produced by the likes of Mick McCarthy who didn’t have much to show for his time. The players are clearly grasping it more and more every game we see.

Stephen Kenny faces his biggest challenge next with the Euro 2024 qualifiers, and Ireland have been handed a very difficult draw. The faith has been put in him and he has had time to form the team he wants and imprint his style. The future looks promising for Irish football and now is the time for Stephen Kenny to repay the faith that the country has put in him and qualify for Euro 2024.

Seán Conlon