Long Read: Where are all the Irish managers in England gone?

Every few months we seem to return to the same conversation and media talking points, “Should Kenny Go?,” “Who should replace Kenny,” “Where do we go from here?” etc etc etc.  For me, the constant repetition of the same old talking points has gotten boring very quickly.

For the record, I’m still a self-proclaimed Kennyite and I believe he has enough credit in the bank to be kept on (for now) at least for the upcoming September window to see what happens next. But the reality is whether you’re #KennyIn or #KennyOut and no matter how “successful” or how much of a “failure” he turns out to be (I’d argue depends on what your subjective definition of success is for an Irish Football Manager is). Kenny’s term with Ireland will end eventually, that is the nature of competitive football. Some coaches are gone after 17 games (Steve Staunton) some coaches are gone after 93 games (Jack Charlton), but all managerial roles are destined to end at some point.

Maybe that’s why every few months when the debate gets going again, I always like to be the first to post who the bookie’s favourite for the job are! That’s despite me being an unapologetic supporter of the Kenny project (again for now)…Which often bothers people on both ends of the debate, but I will forever be a practitioner of nuance, when the opportunity presents itself. Whenever, I post this list, every single time without fail there’s a deafening collective groan at the “potential candidates.”  A list consisting of Houghton, Lennon, Keane (Roy and Robbie) and McCarthy  AGAIN for even the most toxically positive of us Irish fans (like me) doesn’t really inspire collective confidence.

However, in recent months, former Ireland International Lee Carsley has emerged as the leading contender for the Ireland role with many Irish fans, as well as reportedly our association  This ringing endorsement, seems to be largely coming off Carsley’s success as England U21 Manager with their recent U21 European Championship success (with a considerably stronger squad than Kenny had as Ireland U21 Manager mind you)/ Is Carsley not just another less-qualified Stephen Kenny? Carsley has worked almost exclusively as a Youth Coach since retiring from playing in 2011. This is aside from a total of  24 senior games across  Coventry, Brentford and most recently as caretaker manager of Birmingham City back in October 2017…

Lee Carsley (Image: Buzz.ie)

What grinds my gears is the fact that many of those currently advocating for Carsley, are the same people who described the appointment of Kenny as an act of “tokenism”.  Do. Me. .A. Favour. Kenny got the Ireland job on merit; he revolutionised Irish Football most notably for his achievements transforming a Dundalk side on the brink of financial ruin to one which trailblazed in Europe, broke the glass ceiling and dominated the League of Ireland before he transitioned to Ireland U21 Manager. Comparatively speaking, Carsley’s coaching career thus far is almost entirely youth football and quite simply doesn’t stack up to what Kenny’s is/was when he was first appointed. This surely gives cause for concern? After all, as we have learned with Kenny senior coaching is an entirely different ball game, quite literally. Carsley may turn out to be the man to elevate Ireland and continue Kenny’s work, I have my doubts, but you never know.

Thus, when the debate inevitably comes around again it got me thinking. What should an Irish manager be? What should we be looking for? Dave Carabini an IFB stalwart, one of my podcast partners on The Peilcast but most importantly someone who has become a good friend of mine has made an interesting point to me on several occasions. Dave argues that an International Manager eligibility should work the same way that players do i.e. unless you’ve recent/current heritage for a nation, you cannot manage them.  This is an interesting argument, and certainly in which there is a merit but to the same end that would’ve deprived us of our “Glory Days” under Jack Charlton and even if I wasn’t born for Italia 90, that just seems downright sacrilegious. However, in the present day, the non-Irish names being touted like Sam Allardyce and Rafa Benitez aren’t exactly going to move the mantle for Irish Football either.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, it should be about appointing “best in class” as Ireland Manager. I’m a personal Ole (Gunnar Solskjær) advocate, I posted as much on Twitter a few months back and to my pleasant surprise, a lot of people agreed with me! We even had people saying how the Ole Ole Ole chant would be great! (happy coincidence on my part).  But despite that being my preference, I’m realistic and I simply can’t see that happening. Thus, I think it should be more about controlling the controllables and the best way of doing that is looking at how we can develop our coaches in Ireland. Because the UK route is not working…

Across the top-four Divisions in English Football today, only 2/92 Head Coaches are from The Republic of Ireland, Mark Kennedy at Lincoln City in League 1 along with Graham Coughlan managing Newport County in League 2. If we wanted to get somewhat political we can claim Michael Duff at Barnsley in League 1,  Kieran McKenna at Ipswich in the Championship and Grant McCann with Doncaster Rovers in League 2. But that is a conversation for another day and something far more complex than Irish Football. But what is for certain the days of Roy Keane winning the Championship, David O’Leary managing in the Champions League or Martin O’Neil, Chris Houghton, Joe Kinnear and even Brian McDermott are nothing but a distant memory.

David O’Leary (Image: Leeds Live)

Irish Football needs to find another way of developing Irish Coaches and the League of Ireland for all its benefits and drawbacks currently only has twenty-one Head Coach role spots. It’s probably why we often see Irish coaches turning to Youth Level in the UK to gain experience with grandeur faculties and “better” players abroad. Even the so-called “better” coaches in Ireland by my reckoning are few and far between. Shamrock Rogers Manager Stephen Bradley reportedly came close to landing the role at Lincoln City, before ironically losing out to another Irishman Mark Kennedy,  Ruaidhri Higgins with linked with Barnsley and after that, the choices are few and far between, to be honest, I’m not even sure those two are good enough.

The only other man in the League who I could see going somewhere is Shelbourne manager Damien Duff a polarising figure (probably partially why I love him as a coach, alongside loving him as a footballer too) for his us vs them mentality. However, whether you love him or hate him, what can’t be denied is he’s worked his way up the managerial ladder the right way, doing the hard yards and not living off his name coaching at several levels with Shamrock Rovers, Celtic, Ireland and Shelbourne before taking the senior job. Interestingly he is one of three of Stephen Kenny’s former assistant managers himself, John Eustace and Antony Barry that hail from Ireland and whatever about attracting and keeping “Irishmen” and “Irishwomen” in prominent roles when the coach has no Irish lineage, and a bigger job comes along? The prospects of keeping them are slim to nil in my opinion.

There is clearly a disconnect in Irish Football, there seems to be a plethora of “Coaches” but not too many actual Head Coaches, for reference let’s look at where the graduates from the latest FAI UEFA Pro Licence course which took place in March and where the current graduates are…

Tim Corcoran – University of Wisconsin

Martin Doyle – Ireland U21 Performance Analyst

William Doyle – Ireland U15 Coach

Gerard Glynn –  (High-Performance National Coach Educator)

James Gow – AaB Director of Football

Colin Healy – Unattached

Gary Hunt – Waterford and Tramore Coach

Laura Heffernan – DLR Waves

George Jermy – Founder/Director FC Malaga

Paul McShane – U15 Manchester United Coach

Leon McSweeney -U23 Leicester Coach

David Meyler – Unattached (Hull City U15 Casual)

Andy Myler – UCD

Conor Nestor – Hyderabad (first-team coach)

James O’Callaghan – Peamount

Stephen O’Donnell – Dundalk FC

Gavin Peers – Longford Town (first-team coach)

Craig Sexton -Head of the Academy Bohemians

Sean St. Ledger – Senior Scout Leicester

Glenn Whelan  – first-team coach at Bristol Rovers.

Paul McShane (Image: Manchester United)

From this list, three things strike me.

  1. There were only 20 names on the course, a paltry amount in my opinion for a country which would benefit from as many qualified coaches as possible.
  2. A high percentage of these graduates are either unemployed or coaching at a low level.
  3. Only 1/20 of the graduates were female.

Low Volume, Low Diversity, Low-Level Coaching… Not ideal. From the names we haven’t mentioned are there any other notable “Irish” coaches of note?

John O’Shea – Ireland Assistant Manager

Keith Andrews – Ireland Assistant Manager

Jim Crawford – Ireland U21 Manager

Travis Binnion – Manchester United U21 Manager

Brendan Rodger – Celtic FC

Jim Goodwin – Dundee United

Robbie Keane – Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C.

Brian Barry-Murphy – Manchester City Elite Development Squad

James O’Connor – Unattached

Christopher Harrington – North Carolina FC Coach

Brian Barry-Murphy (Image: Manchester City)

There are a few coaches with a nice profile on that list no question, but for me, I’d still like more top-level coaches coming out of Ireland. I’ll concede that wish is a lot easier said than done, I mean, if the association could make some simple changes that would be overwhelmingly positive for Irish Football, they’d do just that right? I hope so anyway.

But here are my three ideas for what they’re worth …

  1. LOI Third Tier –

The first is the introduction of a League of Ireland Third Division (minimum) something which has seemingly been in the pipeline for decades, but for now, it’s seemingly  “cheap talk” and nothing looks imminent on that front (just yet anyway). For those who follow my page Irish Football Blog, they’ll know it’s something I’m a huge advocate for…

You see as I’ve said above, in the Republic of Ireland there are currently only twenty-one Senior Head Coach jobs available in the semi-professional/professional ranks  (10) Premier Division sides, (10) First Division sides and (11) Women’s Premier Division sides. This isn’t even close to being enough in my opinion…

Stay with me for a second you see football can be one of the most romantic sports. For followers of the League of Ireland, they’ll know the charm the league possesses. But oh how it could potentially be even better! Imagine the likes of Roy Keane abandoning cushy media jobs to manage his boyhood Rockmount, Richard Dunne returning from the Moroccan sun to manage Home Farm or Andy Reid leaving Premier League Nottingham Forest to return to Cherry Orchard? It warms even my little black, cold, heart!

Andy Reid (Image: Nottinghamshire Live)

I appreciate this is “pie in the sky” talk or even complete and utter fancy. I’ll attest to the fact that under current circumstances you’d be 100% correct. However, if there was promotion and relegation throughout the League of Ireland with three, four and even five connected tiers like England (maybe even with the help of an All-Island League;). Immediately, the prospect of these guys returning to take their former clubs up the leagues would be far more likely.  I. Can. Only. Dream.

  • Accessibility –  When it comes to the comprehensive modern-day coaching badges system there is often a debate about the merit of having so many levels and stages particularly when it costs so much a “money racket” as people have said to me. However, while I do believe that probably doesn’t require that degree of education to be a good coach, I believe the average coaching candidate partaking in all the courses, can only be a net positive for the prospective coach alongside their potential players.

If one wants to do their coaching badges, it’s not only a long and arduous process that takes an awful lot of practical coaching hours but also a very expensive process when navigating through the different stages.

To the association’s credit, there have been improvements made on this front with the 2021-2025 Coaching Pathway, which was shaped based on the feedback of hundreds of coaches across the country alongside guidance from UEFA. For comparison, the route to completing the old Youth Certificate cost a coach between €450-€500 compared to €370 to reach the National D Licence level in the 2021-2025 Pathway.

Entry Point 1 – No Fee

PDP1 – €45

PDP2 – €45

Mandatory Workshops – 4 x €25

Optional Workshops – x 2 (four free options available)

Football Fitness D Licence – €45

Performance Analysis D Licence – €45

National D Licence – €90

Total: €370

Time management has also been considered with PDP2 going from a two-day €75 to a one-day €45 course.  However,  for professional coaches, the UEFA B license (completed 9–12-month period) will end up costing €1,950 while the UEFA A Licence will take 12 months and will end up costing €3,250.

So what suggestions would I change? These changes have come from Iceland which has seen a football revolution in recent years most notably beating England at Euro 2016 and qualifying for the World Cup two years later. In 2018 669 Icelanders held the UEFA B License had the A Licence and 17 held the Pro Licence.

One change implemented in the country was making coaching courses, (which are usually invite-only) open-access in Iceland. Coaching qualifications soon became a status symbol. This should be done in Ireland too, if you’re willing and able to do a course (and have the prerequisite qualifications) you should be allowed in at some stage or another! I’d even expand on this and make the courses cheaper based on the prerequisite that you work off so many hours volunteering with the association coaching system. Thus you’re creating a ladder of improvement for coaches but also allowing them a method to give back and get the course cheaper.

Robbie Keane on a coaching course (Image: The Sun)

Furthermore, Iceland implemented a carrot-and-stick approach making it mandatory for teams to educate their coaches if the champions hadn’t an A license coach in charge of their U14s the first team wouldn’t be allowed to defend their title, the rule was relaxed after the shock, but teams would still be fined. The result is that UEFA-licensed coaches train Icelandic children from the U6 level. All coaches are paid for their time and there are no volunteer dads on the touchline. I would like something similar implemented in Ireland.

(3) Marketing of the “Coaching Role” – 

This may seem like something novel, but with the modern-day importance of Social Media, I think “Football Ireland” could be doing a lot more to not only market and encourage people to consider becoming a coach but also give a greater insight into coaching courses currently being held with extra video content, audio content and just insight for the public in what is going on during the various courses.

The current FAI TV Channel has a playlist on YouTube titled “FAI Coach Education Webinars” with 20 videos, but the most recent video came all the way back on April 30th, 2021, which is far too long ago.

But amongst those 20 videos, you have some excellent pieces of content from interviews with former/current Ireland coaches like Tom Mohan, Colin O’Brien and Jim Crawford, you have Coach Education webinars and even posted some tactical analysis of a handful of League of Ireland games. I’d absolutely love for all of this content to return.

Along with the continuation/resumption of those types of content, there are so many more ideas which could be implemented here are just a few from my brainstorm.

  1. Masterclass Series with Irish Coaches
  2. Mic’ing up Coaches
  3. Coaching Stories – i.e. regular coaches give their stories about coaching and their background
  4. Coaching Concepts applied from other sports
  5. Crossover Coaches Series like Jim McGuiness
  6. Looking at our Football for All Coaches more
  7. Graphics marketing some of our top young Irish coaches like Travis Binnion

Etc etc etc, but you get the point!

If you have gotten this far in the article, I salute you and very much appreciate it! The above gives my detailed thoughts on the Stephen Kenny debate applied with the broader context of the current situation for current Irish coaches both at home and abroad, it highlights some of the problems that exist for Coach Education Ireland, before offering some solutions working on existing measures in place in Iceland, Ireland combined with some of my personal opinion.

Stephen Kenny (Image: Independent.ie)

I’m not a coach, I will admit that my only coaching experience really is a brief period assisting my coach when I did Tae-Kwon-Do for a short period, alongside a period where I volunteered with my local Special Olympics Ireland club. Other than that I have never coached in football.

But there is a personal anecdote I’d like to add to this article which shows why I am so passionate about the broader coaching system in Ireland (taken from my Twitter thread)

Football will forever be my first love, unfortunately, I was never any good awful even, later I discovered I have a condition called dyspraxia that may explain some of it. As a juvenile for years, I attended every training, but if my gametime totalled 30 min I’d be shocked.

Quickly, I became disheartened with my first love, football. I left my local club long before I was a teen. Seeing kids, who didn’t attend training constantly played over me was a pill I could only take for so long. I’m not looking for participation medals, far from it.

But there are hundreds probably thousands like me across the nation who never got any chance to improve!  I was never going to have a career, and that’s okay most people don’t anyway. But my passion for the game turned sour with how people are treated at grassroots.

As I said, I love Football, but because of my treatment, I’m no longer involved at any club in any capacity.  Maybe if had been treated better I would? Who knows? But I clearly have some sort of aptitude and passion for this sport but because of my treatment I’m not involved

Strengths-based learning may have been better for me. I had some sort of brain, tenacity and effort and loved to tackle. But if I got on the ball I’d lose it instantly  I had my painfully evident weaknesses, but I also had my strengths.

The lesson I take from this is if ever decide to coach it’s not the “best player” that would be who I’d be interested in the most. It would be the players like me, maybe who aren’t the best, but have that something else. In short, the players that I could see myself in

That is my personal story and why I am so passionate about improving the grassroots coaching system in Ireland, because for me it is certainly broken in many ways, and I feel that many others like me would have similar stories if you asked them.

But people can take my views and thoughts with a pinch of salt if they so wish. I don’t claim to know all the minute details and issues, but I consume football on a constant and daily basis reading, writing and watching, I have a passion for this sport and that isn’t changing anytime soon and nobody will stop me in what I want to, whatever that ends up being!

Bill Gaine

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7 thoughts on “Long Read: Where are all the Irish managers in England gone?”

  1. Con Barnett

    Very interesting article there is a irish manager in The National League Dubliner Dean Brennan who manages Barnet fc .

  2. Hey Bill, great article well done, I loved the personal bit at the end, your journey as a young player is way too common in football, a lot of clubs and coaches have egos that put results ahead of kid’s development, I volunteer with a community club with my nephews team, the focus is very much on inclusion, I think roll on roll off and 7 a side to 9 a side has really helped also.
    I’d be interested to see how Iceland handled the less talented players if every team needed a licensed coach 🤷‍♂️ ‘elite V’s football for all’ is always a big discussion point, I think clubs need an identity, problem is convincing the clubs with the facilities that they have a duty of care to the community and not just the elite that will feed their business model. Anywho good debate 👍

  3. Well written Bill, straight from the heart, I love soccer every bit as much as you. I’ve played and coached kids at a later stage. Your ideas to improve coaching in Ireland are worth further investigation by the powers that be. I would love to see better coaches, better facilities, a better loi, ( hats off to all loi clubs, they are doing their best under difficult financial circumstances. COYBIG..

  4. Daryl O'Connor

    Very good article, the point about an LOI Third Tier interests me as my club Kilbarrack United are now in the top tier of the Leinster Senior League this season – one level below LOI First Division. So if it was to work, it’d have to operate like a Conference North/South in England instead we’d have LSL, MSL, USL and Connacht (not sure how it would work practically), and it definitely would be dominated by LSL and MSL. But I’m not sure it would be able to work in terms of facilities (even though some non-league teams have top notch facilities), but in terms of required stadiums in LOI etc. Also do we need more Dublin clubs in the LOI? Personally I’d like to see more teams from the rest of the country get more teams. But like any other nations we really should have a football pyramid in Ireland, how it would work I really don’t know. Anyway excellent points made

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