Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. (Pic: Sportsfile)
I happened to be at the post match press conference given by Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny following the disastrous defeat to the Ukraine at the Aviva a week ago today.
It was a poor result given that Ireland was beaten 1-0 the previous Saturday by Armenia. Both games were in the Nations League. Both games were such that Ireland were firm favourites to win.
Ukraine are a top side. But they played Ireland with a second-string side, having just been knocked out of the World Cup by Wales a few days before.
Post-match Stephen Kenny looked like a man who was under severe pressure. And why would he not be. Ireland have failed to win any of their last 12 Nations League games. Their last competitive win at home was against Gibraltar almost three years ago.
As one journalist said to me on Thursday, football is a results game. That’s how managers come and go. It’s a fact. But should it apply in Kenny’s case? The answer is an absolute No. My heart went out to the former Dundalk boss as he spoke to the press in the Aviva.
Irish Daily Star columnist Eamonn Dunphy could not have said it any better when he stated the more he sees him, the more he feels for Kenny. Dunphy said that there is now so much focus on Kenny that it’s easy to forget that the players are important too.
Dunphy was 100 per cent right when he said that Kenny now has a huge job on his hands if he is to do anything with the current players. They are really committed to playing for the country. But as former RTE pundit pointed out, they are simply not at a level for what is needed.
I want Stephen Kenny to succeed. He is a breath of fresh air and does think about the game in the right way. He has done a lot of good work over the past two years. Losing his opening two games to teams in matches he should have won has without doubt done some damage.
The Ukraine Match
But leaving that aside the summer is turning out to be a horror show. Looking at some of the players Kenny still uses, Shane Duffy does not play much for Brighton anymore. Jeff Hendrick only played 69 minutes for Newcastle United since the last international Break.
Josh Cullen is 26 and at the prime of his career. He has been getting much hype. But to me he got a huge amount of praise after some games, just for doing the basic tasks. To be a central midfielder you must be at a high level. Cullen is nowhere near that.
Stephen Kenny brought in two new faces on Tuesday last. Cyrus Christie And Jason Knight. Knight was excellent and should be on Stephen’s team sheet all the time now.
But Callum Robinson was very poor. He offered little for the second game in a row. He just drifted around the fringes of the game. Chiedozie Ogbene offered nothing either.
In fact, he was very poor. He usually plays a very wide role. Against Ukraine he was playing half way down the middle. It did not work at all. His role just continuously stifled Ireland’s momentum.
Ireland looked to have conceded a goal just before half time. It was ruled out by VAR for offside. But Kelleher was poor going for the ball. He should have kept it out. The defence were also poor in the lead up to the goal. I thought it was a goal.
Ireland never looked like scoring in the game. They huffed and puffed, but yet they could not knock the Ukrainian house down. This all contributed to a very poor game in the first half.
Stephen Kenny continued to play with three at the back. It just did not work and strongly contributed to Ireland’s demise. He used Enda Stevens and Cyrus Christie as wing backs. Again, the tactics failed.
It was amazing Kenny went with three at the back considering Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman were missing. Nathan Collins did well at the back and has great potential. Central defence is an area where Ireland are good. Quality is badly needed further forward.
Jason Knight was top class against Ukraine. He did not start against Armenia. Troy Parrott started in Yerevan but was not even given a chance to get off the bench by Stephen Kenny in Dublin.
Stephen has to stop chopping and changing his team. He must get away from that. He should know his best team by now. He seems to be still at the stage where he is trialling players. This has to stop.
Kenny and the Media
As I said at the start Stephen looked tired and to be showing the signs of pressure as he spoke to the press. To be fair to the media present, he was treated with the height of respect and was not asked any questions that put him under pressure.
However there are some amongst the Irish media who have been persistently attempting to hunt him down. After the two defeats he has a small number of the Irish media who seem to have the Irish boss in their sights.
But it’s not only some in the Irish media. Former players from the international team, who are now TV pundits are attempting to undermine Stephen. One ex club and former international boss who again is a TV pundit, also seems to have little time for Stephen Kenny.
Kenny also has his enemies within the FAI. Its scandalous that this is the case. A couple of these people were in open opposition even before the Irish boss got his new two year contract.
Kenny told the media he was very disappointed to lose the opening two games of the Nations League. He said Ireland did not deserve to lose the Armenia game and he felt the Ukrainian game was very even. He also described their goal as a fluke.
He said he would have liked to have opened the Nations League campaign with points on the board. Kenny said getting the first goal was critical to bagging vital points. That has not happened and the Irish manager must be looking at what’s really happened bleakly.
Stephen Kenny always played four at the back at Oriel, five in midfield and one up front. Playing three at the back simply does not work. Three up front is also not the way to go. Kenny needs to resort to the formation he always used and the one that brought him so much success in Oriel.
The Ukrainian supporters were fantastic. They sang throughout the game. There was 5,000 of them in the Aviva. They were part of the Ukrainian people who fled to Ireland since Putin invaded their country.
I had comments on my Twitter from as far away as Florida of people reacting at how great it was to see the war-torn people from Ukraine having such enjoyment at the Aviva.
Ukrainian coach Olexandr Petrakov told the post-match press conference that he wanted to thank the Irish people for opening their doors so well to the refugees who had fled the war and who found so much help and kindness for the people from his country.
He said that Ireland had done so much that he wished to thank them all from the bottom of his heart. I finished up at the press conference at about 11.15 pm in the Aviva. As I walked out on to the street, I was greeted by around 39 to 40 Ukrainian people.
They stopped me and told me just how happy they were to be in Ireland. One spoke about how they saw their town being flattened to the ground by Russian artillery. Some of the group were staying in Galway. Others were based in Limerick, while I did find a small group who are based in Dundalk.
The Dundalk group shouted Come on the town at me when I mentioned Dundalk FC. They said they will be going to games in Oriel in the not-too-distant future.
Anyway these poor people, after all they have been through were happy with the Ukraine win. But they were delighted to be in Ireland. However, they were eager to say they wanted to go home as soon as it was possible. They all stayed in Dublin on the Wednesday night.
If you see film cameras around Dundalk this week, there is something great happening. UEFA have picked out three players from around Europe who they want to have documentaries made about.
Remarkably they have picked out the late great Jimmy Hasty, a Dundalk FC legend. He was signed by my late da Jim Malone in 1960 from Newry FC. He paid Jimmy’s transfer fee and his first weeks wages.
Jimmy went goal mad and the rest was history. He was a member of the great Dundalk FC team that won the league in 1962-63. He scored for Dundalk in the second leg of the European Cup in Zurich when Dundalk became the first Irish team to win a game away from home by beating FC Zurich.
John Murphy and Francie Callan will feature in the documentary as will members of Jimmy’s family who will want to tell their story. Jimmy was murdered on 11th October 1974 as he walked to work in a bookies.
Sadly, Loyalist terrorists gunned down and murdered Jimmy and as he fell to the street. He was comforted by a man named George Larmour who put his own coat over Jimmy as his life ebbed away on a cold Belfast street.
Jimmy was an innocent man. He was murdered just because he was a catholic. Anyway, watch out for the camera men this week. Great to see Jimmy being honoured.
Kerry FC are set to join the League of Ireland for the 2023 season. The FAI accepted the club’s application to apply for a license.
In a statement released via the FAI It was stated that Kerry FC is backed by ex Shamrock Rovers player Billy Dennehy and American based directors Stephen Conway and Brian Ainscough. Kerry FC will start in the First Division from February next year should they be granted their licence.
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