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Beacon of a new era, or a false prophet?

Kenny's suitability for the Ireland job has already come under scrutiny, now he needs to deliver

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Stephen Kenny hasn’t been in the job a wet day but will still face a flood of criticism if Ireland lose in Slovakia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny hasn’t been in the job a wet day but will still face a flood of criticism if Ireland lose in Slovakia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Stephen Kenny hasn’t been in the job a wet day but will still face a flood of criticism if Ireland lose in Slovakia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny's most reliable d soldier, Shane Duffy, liberated from south-coast limbo, thrives again in Glasgow.

Séamus Coleman's impact on a reborn Everton persuades a titan of the dugout Carlo Ancelotti to sit the Donegal defender next to the towering trio of Paolo Maldini, Sergio Ramos and John Terry in football's officers' mess.

But whether Coleman is available this week remains to be seen after picking up an injury in Everton's 4-2 win over Brighton at Goodison Park yesterday.

No less a figure than Jose Mourinho deems Matt Doherty's talents worthy of the uniform of a club who contested a Champions League final just 16 months ago.

James McCarthy reframes Crystal Palace ambitions for the season by thoroughly outperforming Paul Pogba.

Callum Robinson torments Frank Lampard and Chelsea, scoring twice to short-circuit the pretensions of a club that has invested over £200m of Roman Abramovich's wealth in a powerful summer flexing of muscle.

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Irish striker Callum Robinson claimed a brace
against Chelsea last weekend.

Irish striker Callum Robinson claimed a brace against Chelsea last weekend.

AFP/Getty Images

Irish striker Callum Robinson claimed a brace against Chelsea last weekend.

Jeff Hendrick's first afternoon in Newcastle's black and white livery is marked by a goal, an assist and a reminder of all he was tipped to become in the French summer of 2016.

Aaron Connolly, the speediest baller to emerge from Galway since Michael Donnellan was depositing vapour trails in the skies above Croke Park, shoots down Newcastle one day, has Manchester United palpitating and fretting the next.

Conor Hourihane finds himself at the heart of Aston Villa's jolting renaissance, decorating his early-season contribution with a well-worked goal at Fulham.

Plunders

Adam Idah plunders an away winner and is a teenage ever-present as Norwich assert their Championship credentials.

After two stillborn seasons, Robbie Brady (before a niggling rib injury threatens to stall his progress) finds hope in back-to-back Burnley appearances in league and Carabao Cup.

Harry Arter is, in the words of his international manager, "rejuvenated" in the wake of Nottingham Forest inviting him to patrol their midfield in the fashion of his recent nemesis, Roy Keane.

So Kenny can hardly deny he has been presented with a whole rash of unexpected bonuses.

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James McCarthy can be a key player in the Ireland engine room for Kenny

James McCarthy can be a key player in the Ireland engine room for Kenny

James McCarthy can be a key player in the Ireland engine room for Kenny

If the Irish battalion has a distinctly more artisan and lower caste hue than in the Jack Charlton days of thunder, still it is many years since there has been such a glut of good news stories.

Kenny cannot use patchy squad form as an alibi as he steps into a week he has waited for all his adult life.

The question that will be answered in Bratislava is whether the 48-year-old Dubliner is a coach with a sense of destiny, one equipped to take advantage of all this recent good fortune.

That loud chorus of domestic acclaim that greeted Kenny's arrival reflected both the deep well of goodwill from which he draws and the inferiority complex that besets the small, passionate, insular League of Ireland community.

An inarticulate Nations League opening, which yielded just a single point from six and saw Finland - ranked 60th in the world - win at The Aviva, undermined the argument that Kenny was the manager to locate old veins of gold.

Now an uncomfortable truth confronts the rookie manager.

Failure to take down Slovakia on Thursday would announce him as the first Irish coach since Steve Staunton to have the Euro finals door slammed shut in his face.

Giovanni Trapattoni's approach was earthed in extreme caution and Euro 2012 was a study in calamity - but he did, at least, qualify.

Martin O'Neill and his Sancho Panza, Keane, can forever point to 2016 and an Italian slaying in Lille.

Promised

Mick McCarthy's body of work in his second coming felt like one long tranquiliser shot to the femoral vein, so unambitious was his philosophy, yet Ireland were still upright as he handed the baton to Kenny.

In his inauguration address, the latter was not shy in making a declaration of independence.

Sounding as evangelical as a Celtic Klopp, he promised to transform Ireland into an ambitious force who would "play the right way", passing and pressing in the modern fashion.

It stirred the blood of many, but then the games started. Ireland were unspeakably destitute against Bulgaria and Finland, nations that dwell outside the world's top 50.

That Kenny has had a tiny amount of time to inculcate players with his ideology will not offer any levee against the tsunami of criticism which will accompany failure this week.

All of 24 nations - compared with just eight when Ireland first stepped onto the gilded stage in 1988 - will contest the finals.

For the advance to be stillborn as early as a play-off semi-final would be a crushing setback.

One from which a manager who has yet to inspire the general public, and whose suitability for the job is already under sustained sniper-fire from a platoon of former professionals, might never recover.

A Slovakian setback would drive the new regime into a brick wall, further anaesthetise a public numbed by years of tedious failure, the Delaney-era car crash, and the ceaseless missteps in seeking to move on from that time of darkness.

It is a brutal truth, but Slovakia might offer Kenny a first and last chance to locate the light switch and announce himself as the beacon of a new era.