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Battle lines already drawn over Kenny

Harte and McAteer would have been hurt by jibes when their hero McCarthy lost five out of six

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Stephen Kenny

Stephen Kenny

REUTERS

Stephen Kenny

The career paths of Stephen Kenny and Roy Keane crossed way, way back, right at the very beginning.

When Keane played for Cobh Ramblers in an FAI Youth Cup tie against Belvedere in Dublin, the very game that is said to have made up a scout's mind and secured Keane's ticket to England with the move to Nottingham Forest, Kenny was in the Belvo side which won 4-0.

Now, their paths have really diverged as Kenny's managerial career has reached its peak, his debut as international team boss last week, while Keane has not managed a side in nine years and it's possible he never will pick a team again.

But just as Keane split the country with the Saipan episode two decades ago, there are murmurings of a new civil war at the heart of the Irish game. With Kenny as the focus.

Brendan Behan joked that the split was the first item on the agenda of any new Republican group.

It's no longer as simple as Keane v McCarthy: after 180 minutes of action under Kenny, that split is already in place, two games into his reign as Ireland manager and there are two camps.

Patience

There are those who back Kenny to the hilt, who unquestioningly feel that the FAI have made the best appointment not just for the Irish senior team but for the Irish game, and who maintain that patience with Kenny will be rewarded with a new era for the Republic of Ireland.

And there are the doubters, the people who were sceptical when he was named as manager-in-waiting in 2018, were more doubting when he took over from Mick McCarthy in April, ahead of schedule, and who now, on the back of two games in the Nations League, maintain that the FAI have made the wrong call.

Jason McAteer made his views known before a ball had been kicked by one of Kenny's teams.

Ian Harte stuck the boot in after one game, calling the display in Bulgaria "awful".

Those barbs came from ex-internationals based across the water but there were grumbles from home as well after the second game, that loss to Finland.

In a column for an online outlet, Noel King didn't hold back, asking "Maybe Stephen Kenny is not up to the job?" and added: "Potentially in some quarters, there are those who may want him removed".

Roddy Collins, who, like Kenny, has managed Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City, was also forthright, saying "this will get worse and will end in tears for Stephen" and that Kenny "got this job too early".

The evidence - what actually happened against Bulgaria and Finland - made little difference to either side.

Most of those who back Kenny maintain that he needs as much time as possible to fix what's wrong with Irish football, that his main success (Dundalk FC) was a case of Kenny ripping up the pretty poor script which he inherited and writing something glorious. Now he has to tear down and build up Ireland.

Those who doubt Kenny probably had their minds made up before a ball was kicked, as McAteer did, while Collins was predicting a "disaster" back in 2018. Many have greedily welcomed the return of one point from two games as their proof.

The problem is that both sides are so trenchant in their views on Kenny that nothing will change their minds. Harte and McAteer are entitled to their views, and it's their right to be highly critical in their analysis.

King and Collins are also free to express their opinions. And Kenny cannot be free from criticism or blame for mistakes he makes. We know what happens when a key FAI figure is never criticised or questioned by those around him.

This newspaper should be as analytic and as critical of Kenny as any of his predecessors, as carte blanche would ill serve the Irish game.

But the pity is that the likes of McAteer and Harte have adopted their stance so early, with no memory of their own international history.

It's fair to assume that both men would have preferred to see Mick McCarthy remain in charge. McCarthy needed three campaigns to get his team to qualification and lost five of his first six games as manager.

If an ex-player had said of McCarthy during that awful run in 1996 "this has been awful, I'm all for young lads making their debut, but it's about winning games of football", as Harte did last week, young players like Harte would have been wounded and McCarthy would have been offended.

McAteer's doubting of Kenny and "if he really knows what it is like to challenge for honours" would be easier to take seriously if McAteer had won even one medal in a 15-year playing career.

Noel King said "Stephen knows the rules: you win, or you lose your job". Luckily for King the FAI did not hold him to that standard when he managed the U-21 side through four failed qualifying campaigns and one run of seven games without a win.

Irish football can ill afford another civil war and those who have already identified Kenny as a beaten docket need to take a deep breath and think.