Image Credit: [The Independent]
Dealing with both short and long-term problems in one fell swoop, the Republic of Ireland announced Mick McCarthy as their new manager on the same day that they appointed his replacement, Stephen Kenny
On the surface, the appointment of Mick McCarthy seemed at best an uninspiring choice, and at worst, a step backwards for the Republic of Ireland. Appointing the same man who managed the team over 20 years ago was always going to raise a few eyebrows. Taking it a step further, it appeared to sum up Irish football’s problems; a comfortable appointment, harking back to yesteryear, with no commitment to the future – made worse with the success across the Irish Sea of Gareth Southgate’s youthful England team.
Nevertheless, the FAI had a plan. At the same time as announcing McCarthy, the FAI unveiled their ambitious succession plan, with former Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny taking over after Euro 2020.
Kenny is a young Irish manager who enjoyed remarkable success at Dundalk. The semi-professional club won four League of Ireland titles in five years under the Dubliner’s stewardship, alongside an unprecedented European campaign in 2016, which saw the County Louth club mix it with top European opposition, such as AZ Alkmaar, Legia Warsaw and Zenit St Petersburg. Dundalk missed out on Champions League qualification at the final hurdle, but entered the Europa League, becoming the first Irish team to ever earn a European group stage victory, after they defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv.
For Irish football, Kenny represents the future and will spend his two-years-in-waiting managing the Republic’s Under 21s.
The combination of McCarthy’s experience in the short term – which will ideally lead to successful qualification for the Euros – with Kenny’s youth, will hopefully prove more successful than the drab managerial reign of Martin O’Neill and his ever controversial assistant, Roy Keane.
Of course, there are always worries with these kind of succession plans – announcing your new manager two years ahead of time can prove unwise if things change or events get in the way. For example, what if Mick McCarthy rallies the troops and not only qualifies for Euro 2020, but performs well – it is not beyond the realm of possibility that McCarthy overachieves and no longer wants to relinquish the top job for Kenny come the end of 2020.
Nonetheless, the unusual arrangement satisfies the FAI’s two main objectives – firstly, securing an experienced win-now manager, who can turn O’Neill and Keane’s squad into a decent side and qualify for Euro 2020 – and secondly, planning for the development of Irish football in the long run, with a young and exciting manager like Kenny fitting the bill perfectly.
The two appointments almost make too much sense – and as long-suffering Irish football fans know, sense doesn’t often follow talk about Ireland’s national football team.