Kevins 2022 review: Kenny faces huge pressure after inconsistent year

Michael Obafemi (Image: The Guardian)

Heading into 2022 on the back of a steady run of results and some encouraging performances, our hopes for a successful year quickly unravelled with the shock defeat to Armenia in June. While we did manage a couple of impressive performances and results as the Nations League campaign wore on, it was actually the limp and stodgy non-performances (and frustratingly unimaginative team selections) against Norway and Malta that saw Stephen Kenny really test supporters’ patience and start to erode the goodwill that he is being afforded by fans who buy into the bigger picture and can appreciate the progress made during his tenure.

Statistics can easily be skewed to present a compelling argument both in his favour and against him, so the real test for Kenny now is to marry performances with results. He has often managed one of the two but the calls for his head will be deafening if he can’t get a tune out of the team in the games against Greece and Gibraltar next year. Even Kenny’s most ardent supporter would surely struggle to make a case for him staying on if they couldn’t seal a third-place finish in the group. It really is make-or-break time for Stephen Kenny now, especially with Lee Carsley supposedly waiting in the wings.

Mens player of the year: Nathan Collins – a very solid performer with serious potential. Scored a great goal against Ukraine and earned a big money move to Wolves on the back of his impressive form for Burnley. Has surely made a very strong claim for his name to be one of the first on the teamsheet for years to come.

Women’s player of the year: I have to be honest here and say that I had never even seen them play before the play-off victory against Scotland. So, my knowledge is pretty much non-existent and it would be remiss of me to try to single one woman out of a group of players who have performed amazingly and have laid down a marker for the men’s team. Their appearance at next summer’s World Cup has the potential to become a seminal moment for the next generation to cherish and could be the catalyst for an upsurge in football’s popularity in this GAA- and rugby-obsessed country of ours.

Manager of the year: It has to be Vera Pauw. A magnificent achievement to qualify but also dealt with the ‘Up the ‘Ra’ controversy admirably and bravely opened up about suffering sexual abuse earlier on in her career. Also came across very well on her appearance on The Late Late Show. An impressive and important role model for men and women alike.

Goal of the year: Amber Barrett’s winning goal in the World Cup play-off against Scotland. 

Moment of the year: Robbie Brady’s penalty to save us from calamity against Armenia. Maybe not an obvious contender but it gave us the result we desperately needed in order to avoid Nations League relegation. It was also a nice moment of redemption for him on a personal level as he returned from international exile. 

Breakout player for 2023: Evan Ferguson. A goal and an assist on his first Premier League start in the 4-1 thumping of Everton, coming hot on the heels of his first goal for Brighton as they gave Arsenal a scare on New Year’s Eve. We are in dire need of a reliable striker and he could make the number nine shirt his own if he keeps his feet on the ground and continues to impress.

In terms of uncapped players, Festy Ebosele at Udinese might force his way into the reckoning. Bedding in a long-term successor to Séamus Coleman would be a wise move while the Killybegs man is still around to take him under his wing and guide him.

Women’s WC prediction for Ireland: just being there is a massive achievement. Hopefully they can make it out of their group.

Euro qualification prediction: I’m feeling optimistic, so I’ll say third place – hopefully achieved by swatting Gibraltar aside effortlessly, teaching Greece a lesson and upsetting at least one of the heavyweights at least once. That would represent great progress. 

Kevin, The Green Machine Podcast


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