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crunch time The time for rebuilding is over and Stephen Kenny knows he needs to deliver

Ireland boss Kenny knows he now has to show results

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Stephen Kenny at today's press conference

Stephen Kenny at today's press conference

Stephen Kenny at today's press conference

HE has benefited from operating under very different rules in his first two years as Ireland manager, but Stephen Kenny will know the moment has arrived for him to deliver.

While criticism flowed in his direction and respected voices in the Irish game such as Paul McGrath, Brian Kerr and Liam Brady questioned his credentials to remain in the role amid a horrible World Cup qualifying campaign last year, Kenny had a more significant audience firmly on his side.

The enthusiasm in evidence from Ireland's fans, as they embraced the evolution Kenny has been promoting since he succeeded Mick McCarthy in April 2020, ensured his extended stay in the job, as he worked towards what he always claimed to be a target of qualifying for the Euro 2024 finals.

International coaching roles tend to have a lifespan of one qualifying tournament, yet the FAI confirmed they were willing to give Kenny the time he asked for, when he was handed a new deal on the back on a record that has seen his side win just four of his 20 matches in charge.

Those victories came against the might of Andorra, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Luxembourg and while progress was clearly being made with some performances at the back end of 2021, Kenny is now operating under more conventional managerial rules.

While there was an appreciation that time was needed for Kenny to change the brand of football Ireland have been playing for generations, the next 12 months need to see results on the field to match the fans' enthusiasm for Kenny.

So next Saturday's game against Belgium in Dublin will be the start of the second era of Kenny's story as Ireland manager, and this one will follow more conventional rules.

The misery of the defeat against Luxembourg in Dublin last March highlighted Kenny naivety as he discarded too many senior players in the pursuit of a youthful revolution, but he learned from those mistakes and will now look give the nation a team that can offer hope and success in tandem.

A victory against a talented Belgian side currently sitting proudly at No 1 in the FIFA rankings may not be a realistic goal, yet 49th-ranked Ireland need to show they are getting closer to the big hitters in international football under Kenny's guidance.

They then need a convincing win against Lithuania the following Tuesday at the Aviva Stadium and a bounce in results when the Nations League campaign starts in June, where Armenia, Scotland and possibly Ukraine (depending on the political situation in the country) will lie in wait.

As has been his mantra throughout his tenure as Ireland boss, Kenny is looking to find a winning formula based around a core of young players and some battle-hardened internationals, w

With the form of 29-year-old Will Keane at Wigan offering hope of a solution to the team's enduring goalscoring problems.

"He is in contention to feature over the two games," Kenny says of Keane's form. "Will is having the best season of his career, injury having blighted his career.

"He's fulfilling his potential now, he's not even playing centre forward and he's got 20 goals. He's been playing in a variety of roles, centre forward on occasion and has been terrific.

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"We brought him into the squad initially and he didn't really feature in the first camp, he's got to come in and see what we're about, be part of it.

"He got a brief cameo against Portugal but he's fitted in very well. I think he's a good teammate, he works hard, offers himself to the ball.

"He's a good target, he will take the ball, you can play the ball into him and scores headed goals as well, which is a bonus."

Goals have been the missing ingredient for Ireland since Robbie Keane's exit from the international stage, but maybe his namesake Will can provide some of the answers Kenny needs to turn promise into victories.

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