When Stephen Kenny took over most Ireland fans were under no illusions of the big rebuilding job that was at hand. We looked at the impact Kenny had on Dundalk, and how that team had performed in Europe, with a squad lacking in quality in comparison to some of the illustrious opponents they played.
We hoped that what he had created there would work for Ireland. We also looked at how the Under 21s had played under Kenny’s short time as manager, we also looked at the back room team he was building, Keith Andrews as assistant, ok that could work. Damien Duff as coach stud out. Duffer, had earned a good reputation for his work at Celtic in Scotland and also in the youth set up at Shamrock Rovers.
This looked like Kenny had pulled off a good move and there was a decent back room staff in place with Alan Kelly as goal keeper coach.
Fast Forward to the covid hit Nation League games, the lack of a win, the England friendly hammering and then to cap it all off the ‘video gate’ nonsense reared it’s ugly head. It showed the new FAI really did look an awful lot like the old FAI, with leaks, rumours of a FAI staff member behind the video trying to get Kenny sacked. It was ugly and messy and in January 2021 it led to Damien Duff quitting. What a horrible mess for Kenny.
Step forward Anthony Barry. Anthony who was most peoples response? And rightly so, who knows the names of most coaches in Europe? We heard he was highly regarded and he was leaving Chelsea to join the team. Barry is 35 and had played mostly non league football in his career, he first gained promincnece by becoming assistant to former Sligo Rover’s manager Paul Cook, where the two of them worked together at Wigan for three years (no doubt Kenny’s relationship with Cook alerted him to Barry). Barry’s innovative coaching had not gone unnoticed and he was given a great break when Frank Lampard asked him to join Chelsea in the summer of 2020. With Tuchel then taking over not long afterwards, and with his own coaching team then it would seem Chelsea’s loss was Ireland’s gain. He joined up with Ireland in February 2021 in a dual role with Chelsea, just in time for the World Cup qualifiers.
So how much influence has Barry had? In 2020, Kenny played a back four for all eight of his matches. In 2021 the team has switched to 3 at the back and wing backs in most games, the same formation that Chelsea used a lot under Thomas Tuchel.
The results weren’t great in March losing to Serbia, Luxembourg and drawing with Qatar and in the Summer of 2021 the friendly games showed signs of improvement. It was the Autumn games coming within 5 minutes of beating Portugal, drawing with Serbia and good victories over Azerbaijan and Luxembourg which have finally ignited the belief that Kenny can deliver the dream fans were hoping for. It’s early days of course on that journey and we will have another Nations League campaign in the Summer of 2022 to really see if Kenny’s blueprint and Barry’s coaching influence have worked. If you are fan of football betting get on over to Novibet to bet on your favorites and see what odds you can get on Ireland.
For now, there is a feel good feeling within the players camp and also with the backroom staff, with Kenny gushing “I think that we have a great coaching team — Keith Andrews, Anthony Barry, Dean Kiely and we are terrific behind the scenes.”
The Kenny detractors have decided to frame the team’s improvement is solely based on Barry’s coaching which is just another attempt to give him no credit. Considering nobody was saying that at the start of September but they are now, shows the shallowness of that argument.
Whatever has happened it has started to work and if Kenny can keep his backroom staff together and without any more embarrassing interreferences from the FAI, we can look ahead to Kenny in charge of the 2024 Euro Campaign. A nation hold it’s breath.
Words Alan Phelan