King Kenny next in line for Irish throne

by Dave Donnelly
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Tallaght native Stephen Kenny has been appointed Republic of Ireland Under-21 national team manager and will take over the senior job following the conclusion of Euro 2020.

The 47-year-old has stepped down from his position at Dundalk – where he won eight trophies, including four league titles, in six years – to concentrate on his new role.

Former Longford Town, Bohemians, Derry City, Dunfermline and Shamrock Rovers boss Kenny is one of the most decorated managers in the history of Irish football.

Mick McCarthy was formally appointed for a second spell in charge of the national team on Sunday with a succession plan that will see Kenny assume the reins regardless of how well the team do.

“It’s just a huge privilege to be named under-21 international manager,” Kenny said at press conference announcing his appointment.

“Everything was finalised on Saturday. A week ago I could not have envisaged this – of course not – but it’s an arrangement I am perfectly happy with. I am delighted.

“It’s a great opportunity and one that I’ll work extremely hard to do justice. To be here for the next four years, and beyond I hope, is certainly a huge honour.”

Kenny’s renaissance has been as remarkable as any in Irish soccer, following a career nadir when he was dismissed as manager of his hometown club, Rovers, after just nine months in 2012.

Six years later, the former St Dominic’s National School and Old Bawn Community College student’s stock has never been higher, and he’s been rewarded with the highest honour in Irish management.

Kenny will take charge of the Under-21 position ahead of the Euro 2021 qualifying campaign, and will also oversee the work of the other underage teams alongside performance director Ruud Dokter.

“My role is to assist and support all of the other managers and to nurture and develop and inspire the new generation of Irish players for the future of Irish football.”

Kenny was a talented footballer in his youth and played with St Patrick’s Athletic – then the nearest League of Ireland club – Home Farm and Bluebell United.

After just four League of Ireland appearances for Home Farm, Kenny stepped back from playing at the age of 26 and was given his first managerial role in the AUL with Pat’s Under-21 side.

He won the league in his one and only season with the Inchicore club and, at 27, became the youngest manager in League of Ireland history when he took over at Longford Town.

Promotion and an FAI Cup final followed, earning him a move to Bohemians, with whom he won the Premier Division title in 2003.

Between two spells with Derry City, Kenny guided Dunfermline to the Scottish Cup final, before taking over at Rovers following the departure of Michael O’Neill for the Northern Ireland job.

A tough first season saw him sacked by September, which proved to be something of a blessing in disguise as he began a remarkable period with Dundalk months later.

With two FAI Cup wins and four league titles, Kenny became just the second manager to guide an Irish club to the Europa League group stages in 2016.

He signed off with Dundalk with a second league-and-cup double, sealed with a win over Cork City at the Aviva in November – less than a month later, he was back as national team manager-elect.

“It was a real wrench to leave Dundalk Football Club because we had unprecedented success there and the players and staff were amazing to work with,” he said.

“I had a tremendous bond with everyone at the football club and the whole town really. It was a unique period in Irish football history and it was a privilege to be a part of that.

“I was reluctant to leave that to go anywhere. To leave that it would have had to have been something special and this is something special, it doesn’t get more special than this.”

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