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Stephen Kenny Departs - Dundalk's Loss is Ireland's Gain

Sun, Nov 25 2018

Stephen Kenny Credit: Michael P Ryan (ETPhotos)

They say the mark of a good manager is one that leaves a club in a better position than which he found it - Stephen Kenny's unprecedented achievements with Dundalk went far beyond football. 

But the news that every Dundalk supporter dreaded became a reality on Saturday night, when reports emerged that Kenny had accepted an offer to become the new Republic of Ireland U21 boss.

What had seemingly sold the job to the 47-year-old was the fact that he’s already been preordained to succeed Mick McCarthy as manager of the senior international team in just over 18 months’ time - as was confirmed by the FAI at Sunday's press conference in the Aviva Stadium.

Dundalk’s loss is undoubtedly the FAI’s gain and Kenny’s departure comes as a devastating blow to the all-conquering double winners, who will begin their search for a successor as soon as possible.

Whoever that may be faces the unenviable task of replacing Kenny, who was the most successful manager in the club’s history, winning eight major trophies throughout his six seasons in charge.

Following his departure from Shamrock Rovers six years ago, he took the manager’s job at a very difficult time for Dundalk. The Lilywhites a club that had only just narrowly escaped the threats of both extinction and relegation.

A glorious tenure at Oriel Park yielded four League of Ireland titles, two FAI Cup successes and two League Cup wins, as well as an historic qualification for the Europa League group stages in 2016.

Ireland’s recent relegation in the UEFA Nations League sees McCarthy return to the post he previously held between 1996 and 2002 – except this time he essentially takes over on an interim basis.

An imaginative, if somewhat bizarre arrangement has seen the Republic of Ireland appoint their next two managers, with Kenny already being pencilled in to replace McCarthy at the end of the Euro 2020 campaign.

In the meantime, Kenny will oversee the development of the U21 squad and other youth structures with aims to implementing a style of play that could revolutionise Irish football in the long-term.

Speaking at the press conference on Sunday unveiling Mick McCarthy, FAI CEO John Delaney described Dundalk as being “absolutley first class” to deal with in relation to bringing Kenny to Abbotstown.

“I spoke to Dundalk and Mike Treacy they wished us well with it,” said John Delaney. “Their view was very pragmatic and very good and I want to thank them for it. 

“Stephen isn’t moving from to another club but is moving to his country, and his country wants him and needs him now and that is a big difference in how Dundalk would approach it. 

“The idea (to bring Kenny in) came from the board and Ruud (Dokter),” explained Delaney. "Myself, Ruud and the board met and we talked let’s take Irish football to the next level as there is good work being done.

“But how do we take it to the next level and getting Stephen Kenny involved was crucial to that regard, and we have the vision in place now.”

Kenny is a footballing visionary and has, through Dundalk performances in European competition, already disproved the theory that Irish players are incapable of playing an expansive style of football.

His programme notes for Dundalk’s final home match of the season against Sligo Rovers read:

“It is important to dispel the current train of thought that it is in the DNA of Irish players to play a more direct style of play, that somehow being Irish that you were inherently born with a skill deficit. 

“The players have consistently shown their talent, their ability to pass and receive the ball under pressure and they continue to take risks in possession and open their imagination to see possibilities.”

Kenny’s career trajectory has not been that of your typical football manager – his playing days consisted of just four matches in the First Division with Home Farm before going into coaching.

Following a spell in charge of St Patrick’s Athletic’s U21 side, he became, at the age of just 27, the youngest manager in League of Ireland history when taking up the post at Longford Town in 1998.

On the back of winning promotion to the Premier Division, he brought Longford into Europe for the first time ever after reaching the final of the FAI Cup, which they narrowly lost to Bohemians in 2001. 

He took over at Bohs at the end of that year, guiding the Gypsies to the league title in 2002/03 but was sacked following a poor run of results at the beginning of the 2004 season.

Derry City was his next port of call and while at the Brandywell Stadium, he added FAI Cup and League Cup medals to his ever-growing collection in addition to a memorable UEFA Cup run in 2006.

A cross-channel move to Dunfermline Athletic followed but the club suffered relegation despite also reaching the 2007 Scottish Cup final, where they were beaten by Celtic in heart-breaking fashion.

He thereafter made a return to Derry, adding two more League Cup successes, as well as winning promotion back to the Premier Division after the club were relegated due to financial irregularities.

He had a short unhappy spell at Shamrock Rovers which ended in September 2012.

After years in doldrums, he brought unprecedented success at Dundalk, bringing great pride to the town and has left what fans of the Lilywhites believe will be a lasting legacy.

Additional reporting by Dave Donnelly and Macdara Ferris.