Ireland’s problems run far deeper than Kenny’s Greek tragedy – we are where we deserve to be

Stephen Kenny Republic of Ireland Manager and Keith Andrews Republic of Ireland Assistant Manager survey the OPAP Arena Stadium prior to the game

Stephen Kenny Republic of Ireland Manager and Keith Andrews Republic of Ireland Assistant Manager survey the OPAP Arena Stadium prior to the game Credit: Conor Ryan (ETPhotos)

Stephen Kenny has not lost a game as Republic of Ireland manager by more than one goal, but there was no hard luck story in Athens in what could be a defining result in his reign.

Kenny wanted to finally deliver a statement away win, but in Greece he might have masterminded a pivotal loss on a night where his charges were outfought, outplayed, outfoxed and ultimately overwhelmed – it says it all when Evan Ferguson actually looked 18.

While the blame can’t be entirely laid at the door of the manager given the gross underinvestment in Irish football over the last two decades, football is a results business.

Kenny oversaw a much-needed transition of young players into the squad with the hope that the project would come to fruition in this EURO 2024 campaign.

The Kenny debate has been a constant since he took the reins from Mick McCarthy but now his immediate future hangs in the balance with the FAI seemingly left with a decision to make after the Gibraltar game on Monday.

The question of timing and realistic options for a successor provides a complex stumbling block.

Kenny’s reign has been littered with recurring themes, conceding from long distance efforts, starting second halves slowly, individual errors and failing to string two performances together.

Last March against France in Dublin, it was a Benjamin Pavard screamer after he pounced on a Josh Cullen error in the 50th minute. Ireland also conceded away to Ukraine in the 47th minute and away to Scotland in the 49th minute during the Nations League.

All three goals spoiled good performances.

On Friday, after summoning Mikey Johnston from the half time bench, Giorgios Masouras struck the winner in the 49th minute.

In truth, 2-1 flattered the beleaguered Boys in Green who were bullied by their Greek hosts in a game where they never once gained control of proceedings.

There were no excuses. A fully fit squad, a strenuous preparatory period. In the end it was Groundhog Day.

False dawn

There have been too many false dawns under the former Dundalk manager. There was undoubted improvement towards the end of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign before that positivity evaporated in Yerevan last June – hence the warm weather training in preparation for Greeks.

Good performances away to Ukraine and Scotland as well as a 3-0 win over the latter in Lansdowne rekindled that optimism but it was never widespread given the nervy and careless wins over Armenia and Latvia.

The greatest false dawn looks to have been the glorious defeat to France, because the three at the back or five system looks to have broken down.

There's no doubt that moving to a 3-4-3/3-5-2 got a tune out of this group of players but a complete breakdown in system showed up in Athens.

The wing back positions are now a problem for Ireland. Matt Doherty, Callum O’Dowda and James McClean were brutally exposed by the Greek wingers who hugged the touchline. Ireland were too flat and became a back five which left gaping holes either side of Will Smallbone and Jayson Molumby in the midfield three.

Kenny has been handed many obstacles during his tenure, more than he could have imagined. Unfortunately, an inability to eradicate the same failings and now an apparent breakdown in system falls at the manager’s door.

Doherty picked up the customary late red card often seen by players who know things have gone awry.

The plight of the men’s national side is a lot deeper than the Stephen Kenny reign. If this is the end, then the FAI must persist with this project. The previous regimes of cavemen football is long dead and Kenny has done too much heavy lifting for it to be packed in.

The next man in needs to bring this team on another level to reap the rewards of the foundations set.

Liam Brady said on the RTÉ coverage that this is the worst crop of Irish players he has seen in his lifetime. He’s correct.

Let’s not use Evan Ferguson’s success in the Premier League mask the grim situation like we did when qualifying for major tournaments. Irish players scored a total of eight goals this season in the English top flight this season – the lowest since 1928 with just three Irish players scoring.

Only 13 Irishmen played Premier League football which is the fewest since the Premier League began – we had 29 representatives a decade ago.

The bottom line is losses to Luxembourg and Armenia and draws to Azerbaijan are no fluke. This is the level of the men’s team. Gone are the days of abusing the granny rule and kicking the can down the road in terms of investment in grassroots and domestic football by qualifying for major tournaments.

So, was this a game we should ever have expected to win? It’s now three wins in nine games away to the fourth seeds in a qualifying group since the 2002 World Cup. Problems started long before Kenny came along and at least he has addressed them with the development of young players in the senior side.


There will be more nights like these unless football gets proper investment and builds a proper infrastructure with good facilities at grassroots level, proper football grounds in the League of Ireland and build from the bottom up rather than the top down.

To resurface the infamous stat, Luton Town have more full-time academy staff members than the entire League of Ireland.

Just 3% of grassroots clubs have more than one changing room per full-size pitch, less than a quarter have no showers in their changing rooms.

Our youth structures have received nothing but neglect and it’s testament to the wonderful volunteers – who receive far less praise, if any, than their GAA counterparts – that we continue to overachieve at underage level.

Professional clubs in Ireland average between zero and one full time academy coach and we languish with Luxembourg, Andorra and Northern Ireland in that regard.

Hopefully the Irish fans who have been pumping their chest over splitting France and the Netherlands in this daunting qualifying group and the Kenny haters who judge Irish football through the prism of the fortunes of the national side are able to accept this harsh reality.

We are where we deserve to be.

At least we can hang our hat on the old reliable Nations League permutations to dig us out, although we don’t need Greece finishing in the top two of this group!