Google had to be consulted when Jonathan Hill’s name was seen trending on X. Even though he’s the head honcho of the Football Association of Ireland, his is not a name you’d see popping up too often. Certainly not an accusation you could level at the individual who held the position before him.
With plenty of justification, it could be pointed out that Hill not being a media magnet is no bad thing. After all, we could have done without hearing about John Delaney’s lavish parties, pints in Poznan and perpetual obedience in the role of dutiful subject to Septic Blatter and his gang of goons.
By the way, that is not to in any way disparage the trojan investigative journalism undertaken by Paul Rowan and Mark Tighe. Their bombshell, brilliant publication, Champagne Football was what lifted the manhole cover on the efluent gushing out of the FAI. With most of the agitating been done by the Waterford wisecrack in the top job.
The only downside to it being put into the public domain being that it gave Delaney’s ego the oxygen it so desperately craved. That said, though it might be uncomfortable reading for some – myself included – the national men’s senior side actually did comparatively well under jiving Johnny’s watch.
Aside from the fact that the manner in which he, Mick McCarthy and their cohorts made a complete balls of Saipan should never be forgotten or forgiven, those that remained went on to do particularly well. Especially so when the best player available to the country was taken out of the equation.
Moving swiftly on, it must also be admitted that the recruitment of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane – whether by the FAI or Denis O’Brien – was also a bit of a masterstroke which not only resulted in qualification for Euro 2016 but also another famous win for Ireland over the Italians.
For whatever reason, Martin and Roy then exited stage and and some genius within the Brains Trust came up with the asinine idea of putting Mick McCarthy back in for the last few matches of whatever campaign was ongoing at the time.
In contrast to that,in fairness, at the time, the appointment of Stephen Kenny made perfect sense. Not only due to his success with Dundalk, but also taking into account his work with Irish underage teams previously.
However, just because Stephen had been successful with underage teams was no guarantee that success was a certainty with the senior side. Before anybody mounts any high horses here, the term success is being used very much in relative terms.
With a team like Ireland, success should be defined as, say, getting some players to progress from the underage teams to the senior setup, so as to give them the best opportunity to compete as well as is possible in their games.
On the latter point, I would contend that, akin to Meath football supporters in the (first) Sean Boylan era, Irish soccer fans were so spoiled during the years of Charlton and McCarthy and, to a certain extent, the O’Neill-Keane axis.
Consciously or not, it’s not uncommon for those who get used to some level of success (again, relative) to almost expect it as the norm. But again, just as with the years which followed Sean’s departure in 2005, McCarthy – second time around – and Kenny haven’t had near the quality of raw material with which to work as those who went before.
It’s for that reason, while it might be uncomfortable reading for some – myself included – I believe he is doing as well as anybody else could or would with the resources at his disposal. Are we at the same level as France and The Netherlands? No, we’re not.
But we didn’t play that badly against them either. It’s clear the boss is trying to get the team playing a certain way. To best utilise what he has to work with. In a fairly high percentagr of ways it’s working out too.
Against the Dutch, Chiedozie Ogbene turned Nathan Ake inside out like a wet pillow case, if he was just possessed of a little bit more composure and self belief he could certainly have scored. So too Adam Idah.
For me, replacing Stephen Kenny in the short to medium term achieves absolutely nothing. Which is why it was a pleasing shock to hear that Mr Hill and his FAI colleagues may in fact be about to do the right thing… By doing nothing!
All too often now, even in a certain supposedly ‘amateur’ sport, the only solution contained within Area 51 – whether those propogating it are people in positions of influence or ordinary fans – is “Sack The Manager”.
Even though not even who or whatever it is that pulls the levers in control tower far away could make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A review at the end of the current campaign of matches is the very least Stephen Kenny deserves.
If anything, given the talented youngsters that are currently populating Jim Crawford’s exciting U-21 ensemble, continuity is exactly what Irish football needs presently. In other words, going forward, Kenny and Crawford working together.
This will be a test for Jonathan Hill and his ilk, how they handle Stephen Kenny’s employment status and how they clean up the mess surrounding the scandalous sacking of Vera Pauw will tell us just how far we’ve moved on from Champagne Football.