Stephen Kenny is a goof with a game plan: cultivate football
My one and only stay with the boys in green, the biggest supporters in the world, was the unfortunate trip to Euro in Poland in 2012.
you and a companion grabbed our plastic hammers, hats and scarves and boarded a plane on Saturday morning, and for 10 days we were seated at the giant party that took place in the streets and in bars in Poznan, Sopot and Gdansk.
“You’ll never beat the Irish” and “Stand up for the boys in Green” resonated in our ears. Endless drink and craic and songs and guys from Tallaght kissing guys from Dalkey, brothers in arms in Poland but back in Dublin on the opposite sides of the class divide. Of course, as always in the midst of the madness, he there is never violence and the boys in green pride themselves on it.Unlike the savage English thugs, we know how to behave and have the craic.
Ah, the craic. Craic is more important than anything including anything that might happen on the pitch. The night of the first game against Croatia was electric. A late kickoff so everyone was buzzing, good and oiled, marching on the stadium like giants. Full of belief.
We stood up and sang the hymn with tears in our eyes and watched the tricolor fly proudly and the shining banner that has become famous – “ANGELA MERKEL THINKS WE’RE AT WORK”. I felt proud that we could be so funny in the face of economic ruin and I felt proud to be from the crazy, dysfunctional little island – then the game started and we were one in the first few minutes.
Football gradually deteriorated after that. Outclassed by a brilliant Spanish team and then again by Italy, both of whom played a different sport than the football brand Trapattoni, the safety of the Irish team. This particular team had stumbled in the play-offs and had been fortunate to have a poor Estonian side in the play-offs. Luck always plays a role. But the supporters didn’t care. The boys in green sang all the louder. They had made it. It was enough. By hook or by crook the team had qualified, so the massive summer frenzy could begin.
In Poznan, my mate and I needed a break from all the craic. We found refuge in an art gallery. The calm was wonderful. No fucking singing The Fields of Athens. Happiness.
Another day we visited the shipyards in Gdansk where Lech Walesa led the Solidarity movement, the first union organized in a Soviet bloc country. I dreamed of a true inspiring leader like Lech who believed in his people. Trapattoni did not believe in any of the Irish players. I dreamed of someone who would take us out of the drudgery and the short term ‘qualify for tournaments at all costs’ approach. I dreamed of someone like Stephen Kenny… or Father Kenny as I got to know him. He was neither successful in England nor a television expert. He’s a good, honest footballer, committed to developing the players and the game here.
But Father Kenny’s days are numbered. Mention is made of Big Sam Allardyce and Neil Lennon, pragmatic professional managers who would get us back to results. They would satisfy the clamor to qualify at any cost. The FAI, worried about empty seats, could give in and opt for the instinctive alternative. No surprise if they do. Short-termism has ruined every aspect of life in our great little Republic for years.
I call him Father Kenny because he comes across as an idealistic young vicar brought into a difficult area to try to make things better. He’s like the priest in the classic On the Waterfront movie played by Karl Malden, which denounces how the dock community is plagued by corruption. His influence helps Marlon Brando have the moral courage to break gangster control over unions and bring men to work. Father Kenny can do the same.
He can influence a generation of young players to develop their game. Pass the ball. To develop football well in this country. I’m afraid he won’t have the chance to finish the job but he has started something and I hope against all hopes he will be allowed to continue. He doesn’t always do things well, but I salute him. The crowd at the Aviva on Tuesday felt the same and looked like a twelfth man. They realize that something is being built here for the future.
In 2012, in the Polish coastal town of Sopot, all the bars were actually running out of draft beer, so the party of thousands of Irish fans spread across the street and the main square. My mate and I were pissed off and pissed off by the whole depressing performance of the team.
One of the boys in green saw our behavior and said, “Come on guys, that might never happen. Comfort. Look around you. This is fucking awesome! and he motioned to the green crowds.
“We were crap,” I said. “What good is football if you are happy when you lose. He thought I was crazy, a Roy Keane not a craic merchant, but that made me understand. No Irish manager has ever been threatened with dismissal for a bad summer tournament. For some part of the medium, failure to qualify and get us to party is the ultimate sin. Football is exactly what happens on the pitch.
What is most disappointing is reading the great warrior Richard Dunne and the true legend Paul McGrath railing against Father Kenny. They have done so much for Irish football that they should therefore be respected, but as players they have embraced the strongman myth and still believe in it. They have always played very well for the old school bully. They say the team is backing down.
Not as backward as this summer 2012 under Trapattoni and Tardelli when Irish football really got lost.
We now have a chance to try to change things. It will take time. Patience. Play the long game, which is not valued in the contemporary world. No one can wait for anything.
God bless you Father Kenny for trying.