Republic of Ireland international football manager, Stephen Kenny.Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Superb week for Kenny and Farrell

The appointments in the past couple of years of Stephen Kenny and Andy Farrell to manage/coach the two most high-profile sides in Irish sport were by no means met with unanimous approval among the soccer and rugby fraternities respectively.

The Dubliner’s lack of managerial experience in England had many ex-pros gunning for him from the word ‘go’, while the Englishman was replacing Joe Schmidt, whose endearing personality (off the training ground, certainly – and I had the pleasure of knowing him in Wilson’s Hospital School three decades ago) earned him a rare standing ovation on The Late Late Show. The latter tribute was somewhat OTT in this columnist’s humble opinion – making me sound as grumpy as my fellow 65-year-old Liam Brady! – as a much-cherished World Cup semi-final slot wasn’t achieved in his time in charge.

That most precious of sporting allies, Lady Luck, completely deserted Kenny in the early months of his reign, but it is still surely fair to say that performances were well below the level required to copper-fasten his hold on the green bainisteoir bib. Everybody commended his attempts to play attractive football, in sharp contrast to many previous managers, but the oft-quoted assertion of his immediate predecessor, Mick McCarthy, “management is a results-driven business”, is on the nail. Always was, and always will be.

In truth, Ms Luck smiled on Kenny in a perverse way back in March when herself and public enemy number one Mr Covid dictated that the horror show against Luxembourg was played out in an empty Aviva Stadium. One can only imagine the boos and the jeers that would have greeted the manager and players as they raced for the sanctuary of the dressing room after that 0-1 defeat in ‘normal times’, a setback which all but ended our World Cup qualifications ambitions there and then. A sacking could easily have ensued.

Accordingly, it was a bizarre feeling walking through Ballsbridge last Thursday night as memories flooded back of umpteen final home matches of fruitless qualification campaigns which I attended. Most of these, in both Dalymount Park and Lansdowne Rd, were played out in far-from-full stadia, many of us diehards frustrated at our heroes in green, laden in many cases with players from top English clubs, falling short – often very short – of reaching the Promised Land of the European Championship or the World Cup.

Of course, last Thursday was no ordinary ‘dead rubber’ from an Irish perspective with many green-clad fans making the pilgrimage to catch hold of, in almost certainly his last appearance on Irish soil in a ‘proper’ game, the unique talents of Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 is a one-off whose goal-scoring exploits may never be replicated. It was a pity that the morons decided to boo him. Indeed, a ‘moronometer’ would be a great invention if Professor Luke O’Neill, Dr Tony Holohan et al have time on their hands when Mr Covid departs. Such a gadget could let decent people take a seat currently occupied by people who think that booing a rare sporting superstar to grace a Dublin venue is a ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’.

Nowadays, the boys in green (who sanctioned that yukky orange strip for last Sunday’s game in Luxembourg?) have nobody in their ranks from top English clubs, or even Scottish clubs. Indeed, in my own moron days full of John Smith, or Jock Smith, lager in Scotland, I was part of a gang which went over to watch Celtic playing on a Sunday, and we attended the St Mirren v Greenock Morton match for what was effectively a sneer on the Saturday. It serves us right that a St Mirren player (James McGrath) is now on the Irish team! Indeed, there are other unglamorous clubs boasting of fielding Irish internationals in 2021, the likes of Rotherham Utd – I happen to be a big fan of Chiedozie Ogbene, as it happens.

When all this is taken in context, Kenny has to take credit for moulding a reasonable side together, even if nine points is a very poor return from eight qualification games. The ‘will he?/won’t he?’ get a new contract debate continues, but only his biggest detractors could conclude that firing Kenny is now the correct call, thereby lining up the ‘usual suspects’ for interview – ‘Big Sam’, Neil Warnock, Ian Holloway and co, all well prepared to trot out, “I just love the Oirish and I look forward to having a pint of the black stuff with those great fans” (the morons haven’t had any free booze since You-know-who left Abbotstown).

It would have been great to stay in situ for some 40 hours to watch the latest Irish win against the All Blacks. A third win in five years is astonishing, as many of us felt pre-Chicago in 2016 that we would never defeat New Zealand. Last Saturday was a fabulous display by Farrell’s charges – perhaps the best ever Irish performance given the opposition? The coach comes across – like his soccer counterpart – as a very decent individual, so he will be very aware that the bar has now been raised (not You-know-who’s favourite type of bar) and that the World Cup in 2023 is ultimately how he will be judged. And, let’s call a spade a spade, we have pretty much flopped every four years at that top Rugby Union table.

And if you think Messrs Kenny and Farrell will have slept soundly in recent nights, one can only imagine the tossing and turning Addison Whelan will have endured as she ponders did she really get Ronaldo’s jersey. For all his posing, the Portuguese maestro exuded class and sensitivity in that touching moment. Sorry for the booing Cristiano. We are normally a sporting nation.