reality check | 

Some devotees of Stephen Kenny left breathless - as if he'd upgraded Pep Guardiola's vision for the game

It's perfectly justifiable to wish Stephen Kenny well while also pointing out shortcomings so far

Some of those failing to fawn over Stephen Kenny have been condemned in sections of the media. Photo: Mauri Forsblom/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

SOME of the reviews of Stephen Kenny's five-game Irish premiere could hardly read more like PR puff had they been authored by obedient Stepford Wives with laptops.

So docile and unquestioning - and worse, enraged by even the mildest of alternate views - is the analysis that it brings rushing across the years an antique but imperishable Eamon Dunphy line that hit like an assassin's bullet.

It is the one where The Dunph, a young, snarling, Celtic Che Guevara raging beneath a mop of anarchic curls, lampooned Irish football writers as "fans with typewriters".

Back then, the press pack could offer heavyweight mitigation for the giddy pro-Jack Charlton consensus, an unanswerable counter punch to Dunphy's choleric lunges.

In a results business, Ireland were winning big. In Stuttgart. In Genoa. In New Jersey.

The summers of national delirium authored by Charlton announced RTE's contrarian as an outlier in his ceaseless savaging of the unvarnished, but enormously profitable "put em under pressure" philosophy.

Perhaps Kenny, a fearless and ambitious coach with an appealing vision of how the game should be played, might, given the time he deserves, deliver Italia '90-style days of thunder.

But the immense reservoir of goodwill that accompanies a palpably decent man into office should not submerge critical faculties.

It didn't for his predecessors.

Charlton's freedom of Dublin, beloved status, his three major finals and back catalogue of high achievement, stood for little as he was hounded into resignation after losing a Euro '96 playoff to a Dutch team immeasurably superior to the Slovakian C-listers who did for Kenny last week.

Dunphy was a lone voice

His unimpeachable status as a solid citizen of the Charlton era, an international centurion, could not deflect Steve Staunton from a brutal supreme court verdict.

A CV quilted with glory failed to insulate Giovanni Trapattoni against the coldest judgement.

The Dublin slaying of world champions Germany and a summer night for the ages in Lille was insufficient to balance the books for Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.

Even his status as national treasure did not earn Brian Kerr a reprieve and again the guillotine fell.

Of course, it is ludicrously premature to make any defining call on how the Kenny adventure might unspool after a few introductory chapters.

Equally overblown is the hyperventilating at Ireland stringing a few passes together against modest opponents, some devotees of the new coach as breathless as if he had upgraded Pep Guardiola's vision for the game.

For all the evident and welcome aesthetic enhancements, Kenny's off-Broadway opening nights hardly merit the more palpitating reviews.

A cold audit reveals one goal in eight hours of football; no victories in five games; Euro 2021 elimination; Nations League impotence.

All this against opponents who swim in the shallow backwaters of international football.

Slovakia's biggest name is a 33-year-old who opted to see out his playing days in China's hugely lucrative, non-competitive semi-retirement village.

Those who argue that the lack of a cutting edge in attack should insulate Kenny from criticism, might be unaware that Finland's leading striker has scored once in 23 games for club and country over the past nine months.

Teemu Pukki is Adam Idah's Norwich strike partner and at the time of kick-off in Helsinki was employed by a club sitting on the 37th rung of the English football ladder.

The Covid-19 disruptions ahead of the Euro playoff were dislocating, but no worse than those endured by Slovakia.

Wales, like Slovakia, Finland and Bulgaria, all of whom confounded Kenny's Ireland, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and, without Gareth Bale at the Aviva, were stripped of their firewall against mediocrity.

In the guts of 500 minutes against this lower caste assortment, Ireland scored once: A headed goal from a centre-back that might have come straight from the Charlton playbook.

It is possible to wish Kenny well in his search for the lost chord of the Irish game without feeling it an act of treachery to shine a light on some self-evident truths.

The great warrior Richard Dunne's career offered no shortage of evidence of how much he cared, yet he feels no strain in acknowledging the realities of Kenny's position.

Under the headline "I am fully supportive of a more open style of play - but not at the cost of results," the lion of Moscow did not equivocate.

"Ireland have changed the way they play under Stephen Kenny and there is encouragement to be drawn from the way they are passing the ball.

"But I think there is a danger that you get obsessed with changing the style of play ahead of what football is meant to be about - winning games."

He continued: "The Euros are in Dublin next year, and we won't be there. Slovakia are still in contention but after beating Ireland, Slovakia went and lost to Scotland and lost at home to Israel. Slovakia are not a good side.

"So, we have to be careful that we don't accept our team out-passing average international teams but not winning, patting ourselves on the back..."

And yet, the Stepford Wives will not hear a cross word spoken against their man.

Mick McCarthy was pilloried for nothing more offensive than immediately retracing well worn steps - Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville among recent examples - from dressing room to the commentary booth.

By all means, criticise McCarthy's banal analysis, his conviction that the Ireland skipper's full name is "Big Shane Duffy," but not his right to present his opinions (which, anyway, rarely strayed beyond grey and inoffensive).

Those of us who write about subjects other than football found ourselves chastised for "taking a quarterly break from hagiographical coverage of other codes to spew ill-informed invective at the national football team."If that was aimed in this direction was it for the suggestion - which Kenny himself later accepted - that, when fit, it should not be impossible to accommodate Ireland's two best players Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman in the same XI?

Should some consider odes to the stunning careers of Katie Taylor or Padraig Harrington, to the uncharted territory Dublin's five-in-a-row titans have taken their chosen code or to the sorcery of Joe Canning or Ruby Walsh as hagiography, that is their entitlement.

At least those gushing words were aimed at individuals who have touched greatness rather than at a team shot down by the low grade weaponry which is the best that Slovakia or Finland can muster.

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