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new era The four key areas Stephen Kenny must address to keep his job and earn a new contract

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Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It's a landmark that comes with a number of asterisks attached, but at the end of this month Stephen Kenny will effectively have reached the halfway point of his window to prove to the FAI that he deserves a longer crack at the gig.

The vagaries of lockdown mean that the 10 months since he assumed control from Mick McCarthy in the accelerated succession plan have included long spells where he wasn’t able to do very much at all.

He still hasn't experienced the high of managing an Irish side in front of friends, family and Irish supporters in Dublin. It's possible he will not be afforded that opportunity until September.

It's 10 months until the Republic of Ireland's regular World Cup qualifying group draws to a conclusion and Kenny should have an idea where his future prospects stand at that stage.

If Ireland have defied the odds to see off Portugal and Serbia and top their group, then he will be staying. Second place and a play-off – which would be played in March 2022 – would surely earn him a deal for the Euros campaign regardless of the outcome.

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Ireland manager Stephen Kenny looks up to the skies during a training session in Abbotstown ahead of last November's Nations League game against Bulgaria. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny looks up to the skies during a training session in Abbotstown ahead of last November's Nations League game against Bulgaria. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny looks up to the skies during a training session in Abbotstown ahead of last November's Nations League game against Bulgaria. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Yet if Ireland fall short and find themselves in third spot again, the place they filled in the Euros tilt behind Switzerland and Denmark, he will be in uncertain territory and the decision will be based around the interpretation of his work.

After the loss of two staff members, Kenny finds himself in a tricky position at the beginning of a year where his mission is to try and turn his dream job into a longer-term reality.

The lesson of recent months is that he also needs a crisis-free vibe around the camp to make a strong case for retention if qualification proves beyond his charges. Besides the obvious – good results – here are the areas that need to be addressed.

COACHING BALANCE

The first task for Kenny is to find the right replacement for Damien Duff and also for Alan Kelly, although Duff was a bigger loss as his position is more important because of how Kenny sold his coaching ticket; he likes to work off a small staff with two coaches doing a lot of work on the field.

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Lee Carsley

Lee Carsley

Lee Carsley

It's believed that he will not be successful in any attempt to lure Lee Carsley away from his job with the English FA and strong doubts still surround John O'Shea's ability to commit to the role.

The Irish Independent mentioned Mark Kennedy as a potential wild-card last Monday but he's now much closer to a live contender.

Kennedy has coaching experience with Ipswich, Manchester City and Wolves and briefly managed a cash-strapped Macclesfield side. Kenny needs to be 100pc sure that any new face suits the dynamic both on and off the park.

There seems to be an awareness that a candidate with high-level playing experience is required at this juncture, but it’s also vital it’s the type of personality that can slot in easily given how the big game against Serbia in March will be preceded by just two or three training sessions.

The Covid complications made it hard for a proliferation of new staff members to really bond with a changed squad and that challenge will linger for March.

Kenny has to strike the right balance in these appointments; you need gravitas and authority but the group probably needs a presence with positive energy too in the circumstances.

FAI BACKING

Covid-19 presented logistical challenges for the FAI in terms of managing the preparations for the autumn games, while the 'Videogate' incident was accelerated by the bizarre statement to the ‘Daily Mail’ that gave weight to a story detailing private interactions between the manager and his players.

Kenny was further undermined by spin on discussions between players and the FAI about the video, with negative feedback filtering out quicker than the picture of bemusement with the overall investigation and Duff's threat to quit over it.

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Damien Duff has left his role as coach in Stephen Kenny's Ireland set-up. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Damien Duff has left his role as coach in Stephen Kenny's Ireland set-up. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Damien Duff has left his role as coach in Stephen Kenny's Ireland set-up. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This ties in with Kenny's assertion that there are figures "behind the scenes" making life difficult for him.

It's understood that the FAI top brass are aware of Kenny’s feelings and new CEO Jonathan Hill is very much in the loop on this.

Ultimately, the performance of the senior team is so important to the organisation that the FAI cannot be in a position where the manager is caught up in concerns that there are people – and it’s plural rather than singular – in or around the international camp that have an issue with him.

A back-and-forth between Kenny and then-interim CEO Gary Owens in the press around the handling of the Bratislava trip was unfortunate; Owens was supportive of the manager generally, but there was an element of self-preservation at play in the tone of comments.

It highlights the importance of developing a strong working relationship with Hill so they remain on the same hymn sheet about any aspects of planning and operations.

PLAYER SATISFACTION

One of the bizarre offshoots of 'Videogate' was a flurry of information indicating that players were unhappy with Kenny for other reasons. This has been denied by most of those named or by figures close to them and it has further fuelled theories about forces at work around Kenny's tenure.

The consensus view about the initial leak is that innocuous conversations between players and contacts outside the group grew legs and ended up going to the wrong places. Lessons should have been learned.

David Meyler told 'Off The Ball' on Saturday that he had spoken with former colleagues about the matter. "Most of them didn't take notice of it (video) until after I believe somebody who wasn't in the camp asked if there was something in the video," he said.

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Seamus Coleman. Photo: Alex Nicodim/Sportsfile

Seamus Coleman. Photo: Alex Nicodim/Sportsfile

Seamus Coleman. Photo: Alex Nicodim/Sportsfile

According to multiple sources, it has painted an inaccurate view of player-management relations.

The suggestion that Séamus Coleman was humiliated by being brought to a press conference ahead of a game that he didn't play in – the opener in Bulgaria – infuriated the captain and it has since been clarified that he was given the choice and opted to attend even though he knew he wouldn’t be starting.

Players who aren't included will always have their gripes, but 'Videogate' gave rise to tales of unrest that were greatly exaggerated yet served a purpose to sources somewhere. That's not to say Kenny doesn't have any issues to contend with in terms of player satisfaction – they are just of the mundane variety.

It's true that Covid restrictions have drained enjoyment from the camps, with the hotel closed to friends and family and normal mingling forbidden.

Players are getting to know the raft of fresh backroom staff members. Footballers with gripes about the high volume of meetings built around preparation won’t gain too much sympathy, yet there’s a feeling that any issues in that area have been heavily influenced by cabin fever.

The FAI hierarchy are aware of complaints around changes to the security and to the configuration of the team’s wing of the hotel in Castleknock. This may seem trivial from the outside, but these are matters that players chat about and Kenny does have to be cognisant of how senior squad members feel about the changes he has introduced. It should be a straightforward fix and, again, the FAI hierarchy have a role to play.

PUBLIC SUPPORT

Significantly, the pandemic has also prevented us from truly finding out how the general public feels about Kenny's work to date.

Yes, you can point to various opinion polls, social media channels or the volume of texts into radio shows to get a handle on how punters are thinking, but those mediums tend to be filled up by the thoughts of those who hold the strongest of views and that can occasionally mislead.

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Stephen Kenny has yet to see his Ireland team play in front of an Aviva Stadium crowd. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny has yet to see his Ireland team play in front of an Aviva Stadium crowd. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny has yet to see his Ireland team play in front of an Aviva Stadium crowd. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

What the FAI need to know is if the match-going public who part with their money are prepared to be patient. They probably won’t find out until the autumn. Even then, it’s possible there will only be seriously restricted attendances, so it’s safe to say that all available tickets will be snapped up.

There does seem to be a large degree of goodwill towards Kenny, but that will be shaped by the pattern of the World Cup campaign and how it pans out.

Brian Kerr is the last Irish manager whose contract was allowed to run down before it wasn’t renewed and opinions remained polarised on whether that was the right action.

The hope for Kenny is that he gets the chance to see how a stadium really reacts to his team before any decisions are made about his future.

If the vaccination plan proceeds at a pace that allows the FAI to start selling ticket packages with a view to 2022, then they will get a sense of the mood out there. The suspicion lingers that large swathes of the football community still really want Kenny to do well, so the FAI would need very good reasons not to retain him.

He was always supposed to represent a different type of appointment, breaking away from the Delaney-era policy of paying way over the odds for a big name with no connection to the game here.

The so-called new FAI really need to be diverting resources to other areas, so another distracting manager hunt would be of little benefit.

But that hunch will be rendered irrelevant if the next eight competitive games yield the same return as the first eight.

Kenny has backing in the right places, so he doesn’t have to deliver miracles to stay afloat. Instead, he just needs to provide enough evidence that everyone is rowing in the right direction.

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