Stephen Henderson: 'People ingrained in Irish football have been pleading to be part of the group to improve standards and their cries are constantly ignored'

Fri, Nov 30 2018

Henderson led Cobh Ramblers to the final of the EA Sports Cup for the first time this year. Credit: John-Paul McGinley (ETPhotos)

The succession strategy for the national team announced by the FAI this week came as a surprise to many and few could have predicted the form it would take.

Mick McCarthy was the immediate favourite following the departure of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane following the scoreless draw with Denmark in Aarhus.

And with the current plight of the senior side, Mick is probably the safest bet in terms of a strong qualification push for Euro 2020.

It was the revelation of the FAI’s plans, both short-term and long-term, involving Stephen Kenny that raised plenty of eyebrows and a lot of early doubts and different questions being proposed about the finer details.

There was a wave of support for the appointment of Kenny from different clubs within the League of Ireland and fans who view it as deserved recognition on a national level for his hard work and achievements domestically over the last number of years.

However, many will ask if the FAI are happy enough to reward Kenny with the senior job in two years’ time, why not have given it to him straight away given his notable achievements in recent years with Dundalk?

And what an interesting situation we might be in in 18 months’ time if Mick excels with the team and is then rewarded for his good job by being shown the door as part of the original agreement.

These are interesting times within the corridors of Abbotstown and, in what has been a busy week for Irish football, Cobh Ramblers boss Stephen Henderson sat down with Extratime.ie to share his thoughts.

Henderson believes the arrangement will suit Stephen Kenny as the next two years will be an invaluable time for him in terms of learning, coaching and becoming accustomed to the different world of international football.

“There is a big difference between club and international football so it was important Stephen got a feel for it at U21 level rather than looking slightly lost in front of senior international players” the Cobh reflected.

“The organization at international level is completely different so it was important Stephen gets to understand this whilst putting a training curriculum together for short periods of contact time with his players which will be fundamental to any chance of him having any success.

“It’s also important for Stephen to create a culture within the Irish set up that is both of a high standard and enjoyable.

“It’s really important players look forward to playing and training for Ireland. This culture that he creates is ultimately where Stephen will be a success or not.

“I think Mick is the perfect fit in this unlikely scenario that caught most of us off guard. He knows he has two years and a campaign to go and really enjoy himself.

“I genuinely think Ireland played their best football under Mick and that was because he had a clear understanding of our DNA as football nation.

“I think he is very adaptable as a manager and, while we clearly won’t be playing like Spain, I do believe Mick will instil a style of play that will be a lot more possession-based when possible than our previous manager, and that in itself is a positive straight away.


“Both Mick and Stephen will try and play a very much more dynamic, possession-based game than what we have seen lately, but I don’t think the long ball will be binned completely.

“Both will also bring the one thing we have been badly missing of late, and that is organization. I believe players will now have a clear understanding of their role within the team when we have the ball and when we are defending. This improvement alone will ensure better performances, which hopefully will lead to better results.”

So often, when asked about identifying the problems that currently exist within the senior team and asked to suggest possible solutions to these problems, the management team have lazily regurgitated the point that the squad is severely lacking in quality, and that when it is a lack of talent or quality that the solutions are limited.

It’s a view which Henderson believes is the height of ignorance and answers like this have resulted in the players being let down on more than one occasion by the recent management team.

“It’s obvious we are not as strong as we have been in the past but we still have a group of players playing at a very high level.

“The Premiership in England is in such a different stratosphere financially, it’s easy to think the Championship is not capable of providing international players, which in my opinion is beyond ignorant.

“The fact is that the Championship is a very competitive league that boasts being in the top six leagues attendance wise in Europe.

“I believe the players have been served badly the last few months with undue public criticism from the previous management. In reality they have had no structure, no plan and no real faith shown in them at all.

“I think Mick will change that perception and needs to. When you’re a manager and you believe you don’t have individuals to win a game the first thing you do is keep your counsel.

“The second thing you do is come up with a plan that can win you the game as a collective, as a team playing to your strengths and by planning and training to that objective by identifying and exploiting the oppositions weaknesses.

“It’s not rocket science but it certainly looked like it was over the last few months. So while we may not have world class players we certainly have a group of players to do us proud and reach major tournaments.

“People will roll their eyes to heaven when I mention the League of Ireland, but I don’t care to be honest.

“What I hoped was that we would see the big picture and realize that a vibrant football industry in Ireland is essential for us to move forward as a football nation.

“It will be interesting to see if Stephen tries to influence the key stakeholders from his new position. Can he become a big mover in dragging professional Irish football into the 21st century by using his new found influence in the corridors of Abbotstown? It’s not on him to do it, but it would be nice if he tried.”

The appointment of Kenny is a positive start towards reviving that vibrant football industry within the country again but there are plenty of opportunities still being missed.

Opportunities that take minimal effort to make sense of but opportunities that would be of huge benefit towards the future of Irish football.

Brian Kerr is the obvious name that springs to mind each time the debate arises about the Irish soccer team and Irish football in general but, in Henderson’s view, Kerr is just one of many individuals whose enthusiasm and knowledge for Irish soccer is unwavering but untapped.

“I think the obvious one is Brian Kerr and with his background as a former international manager allied with the success he had at underage level.

“It actually beggars belief he is not involved in some capacity towards developing football in this country.

“As well as Kerr I think it is very important we also look at people who are ingrained from head to toe in Irish football.

“People like Pat Fenlon, Pat Dolan, Dave Henderson, Dermot Keeley to name just a few, all of whom have been pleading unsuccessfully to be part of a group that can improve all standards within the league and whose cries are constantly ignored.

“The reality is I could mention another 20 people but I think it’s clear we have the people in this country with no agenda other than to make our league better and for them to be ignored is short sighted if not criminal.

“Why are these people not already involved? Simple. No one in League of Ireland football appears to be deserving of any form of respect from the guardians of the game here, and that is both ignorant and shameful.

“The people I mentioned and others want a vibrant football industry in this country and we all have ideas of how it can be achieved but no one of influence wants to listen.

“These are people who have operated at the cold face of professional football here, have dealt with the good and bad, and through these experiences have a story or stories to tell. It is through these stories football here will improve greatly in a relatively short period of time.

“For that to happen grievances have to be put aside, if they are not, then football is not a priority for the governance here and that needs not only to be looked at but scrutinized.”

Experience cannot be bought and with the wealth of experience that exists between the names mentioned above and the Kenny appointment has to be built on by bringing these people together, especially when they are all so passionate and seemingly willing to help if they are ever given the chance.

Henderson believes this is something that should have been addressed and put in place a long time ago but better late than never and with the appointment of Kenny now have been served with a great opportunity to grow Irish football properly.

“Egos need to be put aside and a focus group put together. Once which includes and takes in all areas of the game here.

“They all have the same objective, to create a vibrant football for all model that is a continuance and improvement of the current grass roots development model.

“More importantly, the creation of a sustainable professional league that has the quality to provide international players all the way through to the Irish senior team.

“I believe this is achievable and so do many others. It’s the people with the power for change that need convincing but, as stated, egos and grievances need to be put aside and serious conversations need to take place.

“I also strongly feel that the government need to be involved. We have over 400k people playing football every weekend in this country yet incredibly we don’t have a successful football industry for any of these players to strive to succeed in. The problem child is only a problem because of neglect.

“Clubs are trying hard and some are doing fantastic work but that is not enough. We potentially have a really good product here if everybody gets involved and pulls together.

“That’s easy to say, I know, but I believe there are enough genuine football people here who want us to have a vibrant football league, but the conversation has to be had actions have to be implemented and the sooner the better for the good of Irish football.”