Football

"Stephen Kenny Has To Be The Next Irish International Manager" - A Persuasive Argument

"Stephen Kenny Has To Be The Next Irish International Manager" - A Persuasive Argument

Pat Dolan once said that Stephen Kenny should carry a wand around with him. On the grounds that he is a magician. Kenny, sitting beside Dolan on the MNS coach at the time, and self-effacing to a fault, made a bit of a face at the comment.

Today, Dolan argued that Kenny should be the next Irish international manager in an interview with Balls.ie

It's the best managerial achievement in the League of Ireland. Stephen Kenny has to be the next Irish international manager.

If you look at traditionally the teams that dominated, Rovers assembled all the best players in the League, Shels did it, Bohs did it.

Dundalk didn't. They just got really good people. In terms of the talent, there's an argument that other teams had more talent. But there's perhaps not an argument that a team has been managed better.

He hasn't gone out and got the best players in the League. He's got the best out of everybody.

Quick run through of Stephen Kenny's achievements in his eighteen years as a manager in senior football.

He took Longford Town from the bottom of the First Division (and we mean rock bottom, not near the bottom) to promotion to the Premier Division in two seasons. He easily kept them in the Premier Division in their first ever season up and led them to the FAI Cup Final.

After inheriting a team stuck in mid-table, he led Bohemians to the League title in his first full season as manager. Bohs, it should be said, had won the Double the year before he arrived but wobbled badly in the half-season before his arrival. After finishing runners-up to an exceptionally strong Shelbourne team in 2003, he was sacked halfway through the following season with Bohs in 3rd place.

He immediately took charge at Derry City. Before Kenny, they were scrapping and battling to avoid relegation. In their first season under Kenny, the finished the season as runners-up. Only three points behind the winners, an unusually strong Cork City team. Better was to come in the form of a smashing UEFA Cup run which took in victories of former winners IFK Gothenburg and the slaughter of Scottish team Gretna. They finished 2nd in the League to Shelbourne and won the FAI Cup.

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His spell in Scotland garnered bad press but Dunfermline were in rag order and he guided to the SFA Cup Final even if relegation couldn't be avoided. He returned to a Derry team which endured a very middling season in his absence. His return sparked the usual dramatic improvement. They finished 3rd and 4th before being expelled from the LOI for breaching financial rules. Some agile politicking and rebranding got them back in the First Division. Kenny promptly got them promoted and took them back to 3rd in their first season back in the Premier Division.

Onto the League's grandest club and Kenny's most high profile failure. Rovers had won two in a row but crashed out of Europe to a Lithuanian side and fell to 4th in the League. He was sacked two months before the end of the season.

And subsequently onto Dundalk, the Premier Division's bottom placed side in 2012. Crucially, this is excluding Monaghan United who disbanded mid-season. No team went down automatically. Dundalk survived a promotion/relegation playoff with Waterford United and Longford Town. Less than four years later, we now know where Kenny has taken Dundalk.

Aside from a couple of wobbles, it is story marked by immediate and often staggering improvements. And unlike so many managers who benefit from an early bounce, Kenny's early success never fizzles out. It endures. He has changed Longford Town for good. And he seems to be in the process of doing the same at Dundalk.

It is impossible to imagine there has been a greater manager in the League of Ireland. Jim McLoughlin collected League titles by the bucket-load but he boasted a very strong team at Rovers in the 80s.

There is an ingrained resistance to the idea of an LOI manager taking the Ireland job. Brian Kerr is the last Irish manager who achieved success in the League but he won the job largely on the back of youth team success with Ireland rather than winning titles with St. Pat's in the 1990s.

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But it's not a good year to argue that international jobs should remain beyond those who've 'only' proved themselves in the League of Ireland.

It's funny. Because that Shamrock Rovers team that got to the Europa League group stages with Michael O'Neill as manager. No one would say that this was the best Shamrock Rovers team, never mind the best team in the history of the League. But yet that got Michael O'Neill the Northern Ireland job.

It's interesting that Martin O'Neill was there last night. I wonder what he was thinking. Because if Martin O'Neill was manager of that Dundalk side, would they have won back-to-back League titles? FAI Cup? Would they now be guaranteed Europa League football?

The consensus among the pundits and former players we consulted today is that this Dundalk team are not the greatest collection of individuals ever gathered together in the League of Ireland. The Bohemians team that won the Double in 2008 and retained their League title the following year probably had better individuals. But that surely makes Kenny's achievements all the more striking.

There's no weaknesses in that team. The big star is the team itself. And that makes the manager the guy that... he just phenomenal.

It's not just Longford Town or Dundalk, it's Derry City as well. That's three clubs in the League that he's possibly seen as their greatest ever manager.

Read more: What Was The Greatest League Of Ireland Team Ever Assembled? - We Ask The Experts

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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