It’s fair to say that Stephen Kenny’s transformation of the Irish team has so far been as smooth as a Ryanair landing.
The manager can be held accountable for some of that, with strange omissions and unrewarded loyalty to certain players. However, most of it can be attributed to what was inherited, on and off the pitch.
A young and tidy team has been built during his time, playing good football for once. Which is nice. Yet he just can’t seem to maintain the consistency required to qualify for major tournaments.
Let’s look at Armenia last September…
The Boys in Green with less than twenty minutes on the clock were 2–0 up and cruising. It was so easy. I almost nodded off in my seat. So bored, I almost willed something mad to happen, and then it did.
In the blink of an eye, we suddenly found ourselves desperately trying to stop the Armenians from snatching a famous win. The game, which for the most part, had sent the majority in attendance to the land of nod or an early exit had become spellbinding.
Thankfully our guests managed to implode even more spectacularly than their hosts. God bless Robbie Brady is all I can say…
How happened? We had taken Scotland right to the very edge a few days before in a pulsating game, fought out before a white-hot Glaswegian furnace.
Simple. We had compromised our engine room.
One of the consequences of such a brilliant and physical game was the loss of our lynchpin Josh Cullen due to suspension. Given the physical nature, such casualties were inevitable.
Owing to a lack of options and an Under 21’s play-off on the same night, the manager decided to call upon Jeff Hendrick for our “revenge” mission against the Armenians.
The visitors from the Caucasus had talked about gaining their own revenge beforehand, still reeling over a controversial encounter back in Dublin in 2011.
Like the Irish, they never forget.
You might think I have a thing about Jeff. Truth be told, I don’t. It’s just that I don’t think he warrants a place in the squad, or anywhere near it. Stephen Kenny’s game plan requires mobility and effort, a desire to play the ball and win it back at a ferocious pace. There can be no room for passengers if it’s going to work.
Unfortunately, the word “passenger” describes Jeff to a T.
He was poor throughout the game, switching off, and constantly misreading movement and Nathan Collins’ beautiful passing. Inevitably, the Dubliner, who has enjoyed plenty of football this season for Reading, was caught napping when Artak Dashyan pounced on some awful defending.
Granted, he wasn’t the only one at fault, far from it. Such calamity is rarely down to one mistake. However, the 30-year-old looked like he was out for a stroll on Dollymount Strand in a feeble attempt to help extinguish the danger. Unacceptable at any level.
Then, there’s Conor Hourihane. Unfortunately, the Corkman who is 31 and plying his trade in the third tier of English football showed exactly why he is plying his trade in the third tier of English football. Foot on the ball, head down, attempting a blind pass towards his partner in crime Jeff Hendrick.
For me, this November is the most important window of Kenny’s tenure, now nearly two and a half years into the job. It provides a rare and perhaps final opportunity to blood in some badly needed cover before the dreaded World Cup Qualifiers
With no Under-21 fixtures, it’s the perfect opportunity to give the likes of Will Smallbone, and Gavin Kilkenny a spin. Why not try on Sammie Szmodics, Mark Sykes, Georgie Kelly and a few others? Let’s see if they fit…
There is every excuse to be brave and bold and not be tried and tested. Because as we saw against Armenia, tried and tested doesn’t work.
If the manager reverts to type I fear he may be on a road to nowhere and perhaps out of qualification for the World Cup before the business end of the campaign.
What then for the manager?