With the Ireland team facing one of their most significant fixtures of recent times and Stephen Kenny is facing the most crucial fixture of his tenure, one could be expected that the footballing public will be 100% behind the team’s effort. However, for such an important fixture it has been surprising to hear the division among the footballing public of the Kenny supporters and the Kenny detractors. However, this has not surprised anyone as the seeds of dissent were sown since the controversial succession plan was announced at the start of the campaign.
By looking at the commentary of a particular group of Ireland fans, but especially from respective pundits over this campaign but in particular since Kenny took the role before the campaign had finished there was a sense of silent disregard ready to be unleashed. With the two fixtures already played, the performance was mediocre at best, to put it mildly. However, I was encouraged with the approach that is being encouraged to take of a more progressive possession-based game and the incorporation of some of our younger players in the international setup.
There were however persistent dissent voices about the new approach particularly the players from the previous three regimes and others who had played under McCarthy in his first spell. Those in the pundit’s roles from McCarthy’s first stint as the boss would have been the players to favour the change in approach. Due to the twin combinations of Mick McCarthy’s first Ireland team has played some of the most progressive football of any previous successful Irish side. The other indicator was that it took Mick seven games to win his first fixture as Ireland boss and some of these pundits were blooded into this Irish side during this period.
Maybe it is out of misplaced loyalty, or perhaps it is due to their underlying contempt for the fact someone from a League of Ireland background gaining the top job in Irish football. However, the fact that these certain pundits are ready and willing to write off shows that there are ones within the inner circle of Irish football who have the belief as a nation we shall settle for the mediocre require Kenny’s failure to justify their point. I hope that I am wrong in stating this point however the pattern over the last couple of months that despite the overwhelming goodwill of most sections of the sport there was a vocal minority who were starting to dismiss it even before the project gets off the ground.
This point, however, takes me to tonight’s game where it will be one of the most vital games of Kenny’s reign with not just qualification is at stake. Still, the goodwill and leeway to give Kenny the time required to implement the style and personnel changes that the national team requires to progress in the long run. It is a real shame to say as this could be the start of an exciting period for Irish football if the time required will be given. With Slovakia being an average size in the international scene with a squad that is compatible to the Irish team with a promising group of youngsters and a solid group of senior pros should make this an evenly matched contest.
This, however, is not the case due to the negative style the Irish team has persisted with for so long has left us lagging behind our European counterparts in particular when it comes to the technical side of the game in particular. Therefore, it would have been hard to contemplate that even if a win away from home in a significant competitive international which is rarely achieved that two consecutive wins away from home to qualify with the pedestrian style employed. Therefore, the Kenny appointment was seen not just as progressive but the less risky option in terms of qualification.
Despite these points of view, it was seen in the feedback on social media that sections of the Irish supporters are feeding into the narrative that the ability is lacking for several Irish players. They are also critical of the fact that a sudden change of approach has not led to an upturn in performances in the two nations league games that Ireland have played. With the progress of this new approach needing time and resilience with an improving catchment of young players, in particular, a very talented group of U21 players in particular ready to emerge it is vital for the long-term health of the senior set up that this approach is persisted with.
However, with the Slovakia game seen as a make or break for Kenny’s project in the eyes of his detractors who will be quick to write him off. As Ireland are going into the game as underdogs, it would only take a victory for Kenny’s detractors from emerging and ready to criticize everything that he is trying to improve. But since this Ireland teams progress in playing a more progressive game plan is behind other nations and that our record in winning competitive fixtures away from home its doubtful that they will progress. Although Kenny’s approach would give the best chance of a return in this game going by previous experience, a victory might not occur. Still, the one certainty that won’t be long coming the standard-bearers of the mediocre have their knives sharpened and ready.