| 13.2°C Dublin

Let Kenny be his own man

Pressure of the spotlight will come on new boss

Close

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: SPORTSFILE

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Possession of a burner phone is usually a sign that the owner is up to no good.

But getting a new mobile phone, and making that number available only to close family, will probably be one of the first things on the 'to do' list for Stephen Kenny this week as he adjusts to his new normal.

Kenny's current phone number is probably saved in the contacts list of hundreds of people in the game here, as players, ex-players, coaches, physios, agents, journalists, FAI officials, referees, sponsors and various hangers-on who earn a crust from the game in Ireland would have had dealings with him.

Now is the time when a lot of people will want a piece of Stephen Kenny. Any chance of a quick word, Stephen? Remember you said you'd try and send a birthday message to my niece? Any chance of a signed jersey for the club raffle?

Because in the space of a few days, life has changed, not only for Kenny but his family. Having been on the fringes of Ireland Inc, in relative terms, in his time managing in the League of Ireland and the Ireland U21s, he's now in one of the most high-profile jobs in the country. The biggest job in Irish sport, as Brian Kerr described it.

Kenny's wife, once his teenage sweetheart from Tallaght, has rarely been seen in the media. Now, she'll have Miriam O'Callaghan begging for a TV interview.

Some of those who are close to Kenny, who knew him before he was a football manager, and also those who befriended him during a 22-year career in management, have mixed feelings about his ascension to the position.

Joy that he's been elevated to that post, genuine excitement about his potential to build an attacking, successful Ireland side full of youth and skill.

But also trepidation over what the job could do to him, especially if it doesn't go to plan. A worry that, despite the best intentions of everyone who knows him and cares for him, that the job could change him.

Like the misquoted Shakespeare line about the crown lying heavy on the head of its wearer, could focus on non-football matters become too much to bear, the media focus, public intrusion, national interest in his family?

David Bowie sang of Major Tom and how "the papers want to know whose shirts you wear".

Now, the Irish public will want to know what car Kenny drives, what newspaper he reads, how he takes his coffee.

Jibes

While in the role of Ireland manager, Brian Kerr had to put up with a former player turned pundit (Liam Brady) going beyond mere football comments and making nasty jibes on radio about Kerr's "dyed hair and cheap suits", an equally cheap shot that Kerr resented (and he said he never dyed his hair).

Kerr also struggled with aspects of the limelight, expressing deep anger when a Sunday newspaper did a feature on him which included a photo of his house.

That was in an era before smartpones, Google street maps, Twitter and Instagram: life in the public eye now is harder than in Kerr's time. Photos of Kenny doing a Tesco shop won't appear in the Sunday papers, they'll be on Twitter.

For the Ireland manager to live in Ireland, as only Kerr has done in the last 35 years, will not be easy. Every word he says in public will now be scrutinised in detail.

And in the smartphone era, every private interaction with a member of the general population has the potential to become very public very quickly.

If Kenny, while out having a meal with his family, agrees to 25 selfies in a row but politely declines a 26th with a plea for privacy, will the person whose request is rejected take to twitter and pour scorn on the once-humble football manager who is now too big for his boots?

Kenny's communication skills are already a matter of debate, as the minutes from FAI board meetings where Kenny's public image was discussed were leaked to the Sunday Times.

In retrospect, if that Delaney-era board had been more concerned about the disastrous finances of the Association at the time than the public speaking style of a very successful manager, Irish football would have been saved a lot of subsequent pain.

Their concerns about Kenny says more about those FAI directors than about Kenny himself.

Kenny had a life, and a career, outside of the game before he became a full-time manager at Bohemians in 2001, working in the family's food supplies business, and that experience of life outside the bubble of the professional game has stood to him.

That made him different. Footballers, who later become football managers, are coached on what to say, to say nothing if at all possible.

Bubble

This newspaper was last week offered an interview with a prominent ex-Ireland international on the strict condition that questions were not asked about the impact of Covid-19 on the game or FAI matters ... the only two topics of interest to football people right now. That interview would have been pointless.

Kenny looks to a life beyond the football bubble. The manager's notes in match programmes, across the game, rarely venture beyond banality: welcome to the visiting team, few lines on last week's match, let's hope we have a win today.

Kenny's programme notes, while manager of Dundalk, could touch on any topic, from Bloody Sunday to the invasion of Iraq to GAA politics.

At one awards dinner he spoke, trembling with emotion, of how only that day he had learned of the death of his father, the family who adopted Kenny as a baby (his adoption was not public knowledge until Kenny revealed it in an interview with RTE radio when he was Shamrock Rovers manager).

At a similar event, the 2018 PFAI awards, he spoke passionately on stage about the homelessness crisis.

The FAI may prefer if the Ireland manager stays away from topics like Bloody Sunday. They can try and shield him from the media's gaze, but when Kenny has something to say, he says it.

Another talented Dubliner, Phil Lynott, once sang of how "honesty was my only excuse".

Ireland should not try to change what's not broken and let Stephen Kenny be Stephen Kenny.