Defiant Kenny right to hit back, but results must improve

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny took aim at his critics following his team’s 3-0 victory over Gibraltar in a 2024 European Championship qualifier earlier this week.

The result kept Ireland’s hopes of progressing to next summer’s tournament alive, although the bookmakers still think they will come up short.

France and Netherlands are strongly fancied to claim the top two spots in Group B, while Greece are an annoying distraction Ireland would rather not have to contend with.

It is little wonder that the best betting sites in Ireland rate Kenny’s team as 125/1 shots to win the group and 14/1 to qualify.

While backing Ireland to make it to Euro 2024 would be a brave move, Kenny believes his team possesses the ability to upset the odds.

He understandably has confidence in his managerial ability, having enjoyed plenty of success at club level and with Ireland’s U21 team.

Kenny has continued his ethos of giving younger players a chance at senior level, bringing 18 players through a system he helped to establish.

He was heavily criticised for Ireland’s failure to mount a serious challenge to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, with a defeat against Luxembourg a noteworthy setback.

Former Ireland manager Brian Kerr and ex-international player Damien Delaney have been among Kenny’s most vocal critics in recent months.

Euro 2024 qualifying defeats against France and Greece cranked up the pressure on Kenny, but his team bounced back to comfortably dispose of Gibraltar.

Ireland’s home ground the Aviva Stadium

While Ireland still face an uphill battle to qualify for the tournament, Kenny believes the criticism he has received has been unwarranted.

“I don’t need to listen to anyone’s opinions to know what I want and what I am,” he said (via Belfast Live). “I’ve taken on a lot and it’s a small community in Ireland.

“People are upset over a variety of things but all of the decisions I made with the international team were with the best interests of Irish football.

“I’ve made brave decisions in the best interests of Irish football – okay? And I’ve made good decisions.

“I have a brilliant backroom staff. Keith Andrews is an outstanding coach – outstanding. John O’Shea has been a brilliant addition. Dean Kiely – these are top-level people.

“Stephen Rice has graduated and is doing a great job, and all of the backroom team. So we will get better – we want to still qualify from this group.

“I’ll see out until the end of the campaign. I don’t know after that – it’s other people’s decision.”

The criticism of Kenny undoubtedly feels harsh given that Ireland have failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 2012 European Championship.

The much-maligned youth coaching and development structure in Ireland has not helped their cause, while the domestic league remains unfit for purpose.

Kenny sought to address some of those issues when he was in charge of the U21s and is now implementing the same methodology with the senior set-up.

Drastic changes of this nature generally take time to pay dividends, but Ireland appear to be heading in the right direction under Kenny.

They were unfortunate to land in a tough Euro 2024 qualifying group, but they are still in with a chance of progressing to the tournament next summer.

France look nailed on to win the group, leaving Ireland facing the tough task of finishing above the Netherlands and Greece.

However, with home games to come against both those teams later this year, Ireland’s fate remains in their own hands.

Kenny has talked a good game up to this point and the signs have been promising, but football is ultimately a results business.

Those two games, and the visit to the Netherlands in November, will tells us much about whether Kenny deserves the opportunity to oversee the 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign.

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