For Kenny and Irish fans, youth offers the promise of happiness

The weather isn’t great, we’re being saturated with poor football and lockdowns don’t look like they’re going to be ending any time in the near future.

But don’t worry everyone, the Boys in Green are about to embark on their next qualifying campaign under Stephen Kenny. Excited right? Meh, not as much as we should be if we are all being honest.

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The gloss (rightly or wrongly) has faded on Stephen Kenny’s appointment. Circumstances were not in his favour when he finally took the reigns last September. A global pandemic made sure of that.

And while we could see signs of promise and improvement, his overall time in charge so far has left a lot of fans a bit deflated. Not so much with the manager himself, just more the limpness of Ireland’s last couple of games, that still linger fresh in the memory.

The return of club football was welcomed back in the middle of November after such tepid displays. A break from watching the Irish team draw yet another blank, this time at home to Bulgaria, was probably needed for most fans. Again we mention the circumstances. Stephen Kenny knew he was taking on a big task, but he or anyone else couldn’t have foreseen the obstacles put in his way due to event’s out of his own control.

And so his impact hasn’t been as great as maybe it should/would have been if he had taken over in a normal manner and had every tool and player at his disposal. And yes, because of this he has begun to feel the heat from some sections of fans.

Then you have the other casual fans that just couldn’t be arsed watching a Irish team fail to score for a sixth game in a row and drift in and out purely on results.

So as a consequence the build up to the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign might not be as feverish as usual. It’s understandable. The situation surrounding some of our best players at club level isn’t a great one either at the moment.

Matt Doherty is finding life under Jose Mourinho tough, Shane Duffy has had one of the biggest dips in form I’ve seen by any Irish player ever, and key players such as John Egan have picked up serious injuries. Couple all that with the fact we have no forward ramming in goals every few games, and it’s easy to be downbeat. People are even talking of bringing Aiden McGeady back.

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But all is not lost. For there is always hope. We do have to readjust our expectations a little first though. We as fan’s need to come to a sort of acceptance. Maybe we need someone to hold an intervention on our behalf. For what you ask?

Well, we need to accept that we aren’t going to qualify for the upcoming world cup. We’re not, I’m sorry. 24 teams qualified the Euro 2020 (or is it 2021) and we were not one of them. Half of that amount qualifies for the World Cup from Europe. It’s not happening. Accept this now and you may actually get some joy from the Irish team during this upcoming campaign.

Also a realisation that we can’t complain that we’re poor and at the same time complain we don’t have the player’s is needed. It can’t be both. It’s one or the other. If we don’t have the players then don’t expect us to qualify. Same goes if we are poor. Shite teams don’t qualify.

Yes, I’m aware I started the last paragraph by saying all is not lost, but it really isn’t. We are the third best team in our group. That’s were we should be expecting to finish. By all means let Kenny and the team aim higher, and why shouldn’t they. As professionals they should always aim high. But when it doesn’t work out, we need to realise that it’s not failure.

Failure for the manager should be judged on the restructuring of our first eleven and how we play the game. Not on if we qualify. Qualifying would be a bonus and a circumstance of doing the above mentioned well. This campaign is the perfect opportunity to give this team the spinal surgery it so desperately needs. This is the campaign to lay new foundations. I can’t think of a third metaphor, sorry. Two will have to do.

We have a young goalkeeper, who not that long ago played in a crucial Champions League game for one of the top teams in world football. Caoimhin Kelleher commanded his box that night with class and oozed confidence and has since repeated that performance. Let nobody say he isn’t ready for a tough away game in Serbia. Thank you Darren Randolph for your service, but your questionable career move back to West Ham coupled with your age means it’s time to step aside. You will be fondly remembered as a typically solid and steady Irish goalkeeper and for that we thank you.

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In defence we have a serious injury to John Egan and in Shane Duffy we have a player who was already struggling with Kenny’s style of play, before he self imploded somewhere down the Barrowlands in Glasgow. We need a youthful centre half presence in beside Duffy (Egan when fit) that can cope with playing with the ball at his feet.

Dara O’Shea could be that player. While he has been on the tail end of mostly defeats this season with West Brom, he has shown that he is a more than capable defender. With Clarke and Kevin Long getting on a bit, now is the time to try and establish O’Shea as a starter.

The midfield. Oh our poor midfield. A consistent problem area for the Irish team over the last few years. Jeff Hendrick will never again be the player we saw in France be the looks of things, no matter how long he grows his hair. Robbie Brady has struggled with form since his return from a succsession of injuries.

Conor Hourihane has found his feet (and level) at Swansea, but has flattered to deceive more often than not when he puts on a green jersey. What we need is pace, someone to drive with the ball, someone who can do more than just shuttle the ball off five yards to the nearest player. And we have. Two of them in fact.

Jason Knight’s short cameos under Stephen Kenny have been impressive so far, and he is a rare example of an Irish player that has gone and really excelled this season at club level. The 19-year-old has been made captain of Wayne Rooney led Derby County and has plenty of game time under his belt. I see no reason for him not to be straight into the first eleven against Serbia. If it was any other country similar to ourselves it would be a no brainer. Memories of a 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu running riot against us for Wales back in 2018 come to mind.

The other is Jayson Molumby. Playing with Alan Browne at Preston is a huge plus and the club are already looking to make his loan move a permanent one in the near future. If you want to get people interested and excited again about the senior team then I would suggest another outing of Hourihane, Hendrick and Brady is not the way to go about it. Knight or/and Molumby should be given their chance. That’s what will get fans talking.

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Our forward line is another position that has been in desperate need of quality for a while now. I am sad to report that we have yet to find a way of de-aging Robbie Keane. In Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott and co we have so much promise, but we have yet to see it translate into goals. Connolly has been in and out of the Brighton team while Parrott has moved to Ipswich in a bid to finally find his feet and play some steady first team football.

Shane Long may be looked upon for the Serbia game to lead the line and correctly so, but expect Connolly to support him on the flank and eventually take over from him altogether. Options are limited.

Kenny has some big decisions to make in choosing his first eleven for the Serbia game. If we don’t see an immediate restructuring of our first eleven in the first couple of games I would be worried that Kenny is in self preservation mode already due to pressure from fans and the FAI, which would be wrong considering the size of the task at hand.

A conservative approach is to be expected against the Serbs but if the likes of O’Shea and Knight and even Kelleher aren’t drafted in, then I would safely assume Kenny doesn’t think he will be given enough time to rebuild and that he probably won’t see past the World Cup campaign before he is relieved of his duties. The team needs freshening up and fans need a reason to be excited again. Patience and a slight lowering of expectations are needed, and hopefully we will be rewarded for our perseverance.

A youthful spine for a new era and a new qualifying tournament is something that will get fan’s excited again and talking, and may be what’s needed until the goals start to flow again.

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Philip Flanagan

A West of Ireland based football writer/blogger. You can find me daily over at The Bottomless pit of football.

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