Kenny faces crunch time as Ireland look for strong finish

Featured image courtesy of Press Association

When the Republic of Ireland take the field against Portugal this Thursday in Dublin, there will not be much at stake on the pitch. Off the field, however, is where the intrigue lies for most Irish supporters.

As qualification for the World Cup in Qatar is now impossible, the results of the next two games against Portugal and Luxembourg will have a bearing on the future of manager Stephen Kenny. With his contract set to expire next June, the FAI will decide on a possible renewal after this week’s double header.

Kenny had a tumultuous start at the helm, winning only once in the first 15 matches and scoring just once in the first seven. The low point was undoubtedly suffering a humiliating home defeat to Luxembourg in an empty, cavernous, Aviva Stadium where Ireland looked devoid of any shape or ambition. The lone victory came in a friendly against Andorra, where the principality even took the lead, before the Irish managed to rally in the second half to win 4-1.

Since then, the ship appears to have been steadied. Ireland have lost just one of their last eight, the sole defeat a last-minute heart-breaking loss against the Portuguese.

The last international window was probably Kenny’s best in charge. Albeit against weaker opposition, Azerbaijan and Qatar respectively, the Boys in Green recorded 3-0 and 4-0 victories, playing some eye-catching football. West Brom forward Callum Robinson scored five goals in those two games, rounding off his hat-trick against Qatar after a team move of 38 passes, showing the type of football Kenny was known for within the League of Ireland.

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The players are clearly in favour of the 50-year-old retaining his position, with senior members of the squad, Matt Doherty and John Egan, both coming out and publicly praising the former Dundalk boss.

More recently, midfielder Josh Cullen described the question of Kenny staying on as ‘pretty straightforward’. Speaking ahead of the Portugal game, the Anderlecht man said: “I think as I mentioned before the progression that the team has shown over the last year or so, working together has been really enjoyable, I probably speak on behalf of all of the lads that we’re fully behind the manager and believe in what he’s trying to do.

“We’re enjoying the style of football we’re playing and we’re starting to see the rewards results-wise, from the performances we’ve been putting in.

“For me, it’s a pretty straightforward answer, yeah 100 per cent, I want the manager to stay.”

Many supporters have also made their views of the manager clear, with a banner emboldened with ‘In Kenny We Trust’ seen in the most recent games at the Aviva. With the clash against Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and company on Thursday due to be the first sell-out crowd in Dublin since the beginning of the pandemic, this support will most likely be amplified.

The previous two results have put Kenny in a strong position to stay in his role and a strong showing on Thursday alongside a good result against Luxembourg should make the decision an easy one for the FAI.