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Kenny's faith is sorely tested

David Kelly


Irish boss sticks to his guns but Irish team still can't get a goal

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HUNTED DOWN: Callum O’Dowd is chased by England’s Jack Grealish at Wembley

HUNTED DOWN: Callum O’Dowd is chased by England’s Jack Grealish at Wembley

PA

HUNTED DOWN: Callum O’Dowd is chased by England’s Jack Grealish at Wembley

Deflation once again. In the land of hope and glory, the odour of despair prompts fumes so noxious they are quite simply suffocating to breathe.

A relief, aside from the fact the margin of defeat was not even heavier, to find the opposition could house a chief executive more derided than ours once was.

Small mercies on another chastening night.

Then again, England are one of the favourites for a European Championship which will include North Macedonia and not the Republic of Ireland.

Stephen Kenny's side remain marooned in purgatorial penury; the more urgently pressing the need to find a way to bridge the gap to the world elite, the more they become detached from it.

Admirable

Soon, the manager's admirable adherence to an ideal might be viewed as simply stubborn inflexibility.

In his most contemplative moments on the sideline, which are admittedly few, Kenny seems to clench his fists in plaintive player.

It is as if he seeking supplication from an unknown entity.

He has just seen John Egan bounce his chin off Conor Hourihane's shoulder, forcing his removal from this surreally becalmed Wembley affair.

Surely the Gods are mocking him now?

But Kenny is a man of deeper faith. Gareth Southgate shares this philosophy too, a reminder that nowadays much more unites these two nations than divides them.

Why, they even manage to exchange footballers. Managers, too.

Southgate, who played in Paul McGrath's testimonial, spoke warmly before kick-off about Jack Charlton, a hero in both countries and also a man who was never averse to plucking players from his homeland.

Big Jack wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry when seeing Kenny's side initially undone by the type of aerial assault so beloved of his generation of Irish sides.

Ireland's response simmered, rather than stirred. England are a side young in age but their squad is experienced.

Kenny's steadfast values have also been embedded in his men now, for better or for worse; the worse is prompting quite a lengthy period of assimilation for those Irish supporters who demand a bit more boot and bollock, particularly in an historic meeting such as this.

It is hard to see the better when you can't see the back of the net.

Shane Long's deliberate absence denied Ireland the services of the goal-scorer in the last fixture played here; without Callum Robinson and Aaron Connolly, too, the desperate quest for a goal went on.

Dutiful

Adam Idah, who struggles to start regularly for Championship side Norwich, was dutiful; Jadon Sancho, who plays for Borussia Dortmund and has a €100m price tag, was clinical as Ireland soon conceded twice for the first time under their new manager.

Ireland's passing patterns remained purposeful, but they are undone by a lack of penetration and the absence of a sniffing, instinctive presence to complete the beautiful canvas with a distinctive signature.

As much as some within Ireland might bemoan Robbie Keane's absence on the training field, at least the current boss does not constantly carp about his absence from the playing field, as some predecessors were wont to do.

Kenny may have chosen a different path for one night, merely to indulge a country seeking the delusional delirium of a once-off victory.

But he knew that not only would this way not work either, it would be a betrayal of his principles, an abandonment that, though it might have pleased the short-term memories of the crowd, would have undermined him amongst the squad he seeks to trust.

There is no little irony in the fact that the visitors are seeking an identity very much similar to that forged by Southgate's side since their World Cup breakthrough.

Better

The have had a few years' practise, however. And they have much better players, too.

Kenny continues to be dogged by ill luck; Seamus Coleman, uniquely a captain who has yet to play for his manager is the latest departure from a squad which lazy observers would deem cursed; thankfully the Dubliner doesn't resort to such cliché.

He limited his options for this match with an eye to the next two but the reality is that tonight may have more implications for his World Cup tilt.

There are quite a few who would be of a mind that failure to qualify for that tournament will determine his fate as Irish manager.

In the home of empire, the Irish question remains unresolved.


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