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Former Ireland star Damien Delaney says Stephen Kenny ‘fortunate’ to have so many backers

Exclusive: “I’ve never known a manager to be given the goodwill and patience he has had”

Stephen Kenny© ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Damien Delaney© SPORTSFILE

Kevin PalmerSunday World

Damien Delaney believes the clock is ticking on Stephen Kenny’s reign as Ireland manager and suggests a deadline needs to be placed on his rebuilding project.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday World at a Virgin Media event, former Ireland and Premier League star Delaney suggested Kenny has been ‘fortunate’ to retain the support of the Irish media and fans despite overseeing some of the most disastrous results in the history of our national team.

Defeats against Luxembourg and Armenia and the miserable home draw against Azerbaijan have been etched into Irish soccer folklore for all the wrong reasons during Kenny’s tenure as Ireland boss.

Yet, he was still handed a new contract to continue in the role last March.

Damien Delaney© SPORTSFILE

Now Delaney has warned the faith in Kenny will evaporate if promising performances are not backed up by wins, starting in next week’s UEFA Nations League games against Scotland and Armenia.

“I’ve never known a manager to be given the goodwill and patience he has had,” begins Delaney, who played in the FA Cup final for Crystal Palace in 2016.

“Normally, managers are the ones who get blamed for bad performances, but it’s different with this manager.

“When this Ireland have a terrible result, there seems to be a group of people desperate to put excuses out there for him, and it has been strange to see.

“For now, Stephen has the perfect environment to succeed as Ireland manager, but for how much longer?

“You look in the past and any one of the four or five poor results he’s had would have been enough to sink Ireland managers.

“There is only so long before we can say this manager is building for the future and we can’t worry about a defeat against Armenia.

“That kind of argument has a shelf life. I don’t think that is going to last forever.

“So, I fear the goodwill towards him will run out soon if we are not making progress in the qualifying matches.

“You can’t sell the Luxembourg, Azerbaijan and Armenia results as a building process if the team are not showing real signs of progress in their results very soon.

“The media and the fans have been very generous to him, but he needs to start getting more consistency in results because we want to be in the mix to qualify for major tournaments.”

The 3-0 win against Scotland in June was a high point of Kenny’s reign, as his eagerness to produce a team playing a free-flowing brand of football came to fruition on a joyous afternoon at the Aviva Stadium.

Now that needs to be the blueprint for Ireland moving forward, and Delaney suggests the moment of truth for Kenny needs to come next March, after the first two qualifiers for the Euro 2024 finals.

“The next Euros qualification is where the line has to be drawn for this manager,” continued Delaney, referring to those matches that will be played next March.

“If we lose the first couple of matches and we are out of it like we were in the World Cup qualifiers, that’s where the line would have to be drawn with this manager in my eyes.

“For now, the groundswell of support is still there for him, but I don’t know how long that will last.

“Is his body of work good enough at this stage? I’m not so sure, and unless results come very soon, the people supporting this manager have to realise that they cannot continue to dream.

“There are some signs of improvement, but it seems to be two steps forward followed by one step back, and that pattern has to stop.”

Among the arguments often presented by Kenny’s vocal army of defenders is the suggestion that he is facing an impossible challenge as he lacks the players he needs to compete at the highest level.

Yet, Delaney’s vast experience playing in English football leads him to conclude that is not a valid defence, as he argues the second-tier Championship in England should be a breeding ground for a successful Ireland team.

“We have a lot of our players in the Championship and you have to respect the fact that it is now an incredible league,” he added.

“In the past, people looked at the Championship and maybe didn’t think the quality was great, but that’s changed.

“The quality in English football has filtered down to the second tier now and the Championship is a great league to play in.

“A lot of teams play an excellent brand of football in that division now. Technically and tactically, it’s very strong. It’s an incredible standard of football with great players and managers working in that league.

“They have international players in every team, top managers are operating at that level, and there is no reason why we can’t have an Ireland team doing well with a lot of our players playing in the Championship.

“So, while we want our players to be in the top Premier League teams, having Championship players who are regulars in first teams of their squads is a massive plus for us.

“We have lads like Nathan Collins and Gavin Bazunu playing in the Premier League at the moment, and then there are plenty more to pick from in the Championship.

“There is talent there for an Ireland manager to put a team together – and when I look at Wales, Scotland and even Northern Ireland doing better than us in recent years, we can’t say that we don’t have enough players to compete at international level.”

Every football fan in this country wants Kenny to mould a successful Ireland team, but there is also a need for tangible progression towards qualification for a major tournament to be in evidence.

The next six months will give us a clear indication of whether Kenny’s Ireland era is destined to be a success.

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