Dundalk winger Michael Duffy is finally ready to answer Ireland’s call after his transfer of eligibility from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland was cleared at the weekend.
The 26-year-old can now be called upon by his former club boss Stephen Kenny if required after being denied potential previous international caps having been previously called up by Northern Ireland for a World Cup qualifying game against the Czech Republic in 2016 – a game in which he later withdrew from the squad.
There had been strong rumours of a call-up for Duffy under Martin O’Neill towards the end of 2018 but he was blocked from doing so with paperwork still an issue when Kenny took charge of the senior team from Mick McCarthy last year.
In November Kenny confirmed he would have called Duffy up for a squad only for the issue.
He said: “I would have called up Michael Duffy from Dundalk as well except that there’s an issue with his paperwork at Fifa. But for that he would have been called up.”
The fact that the league here only starts on March 20th doesn’t bode well for Duffy potentially receiving a call-up for the World Cup qualifier double header away to Serbia on March 24th and at home to Luxembourg on March 27th but a friendly against Qatar on March 30th could be a good option for Kenny to have a closer look at the player he signed for Dundalk from Celtic in January 2017.
The Derry man, winner of the PFAI Player of the Year award in 2018, has previously been capped by the Republic of Ireland at U-18 level in 2012 and also has caps for Northern Ireland up to U-21 level.
Mick Fairclough in 1982 was the last current Dundalk player to receive a senior international cap but, regardless of Duffy’s situation, that looks set to change in the coming months with new signings Sonni Nattestad and Raivis Jurkovskis current internationals for the Faroe Islands and Latvia respectively.
When Stephen Kenny was unveiled as the new Republic of Ireland U-21 manager back in November 2018 there was an almost comical moment mid-way through his press conference when a journalist’s phone interrupted him with the message ‘You’ve arrived’.
While the GPS notification brought more than a handful of giggles from this present, there was a different sort of interruption at his unveiling as senior team manager on Thursday.
Due to the current social distancing measures in place across the country, Kenny was forced to face the press for the first time in his new role digitally from his Blackrock home. The 48-year-old, with the aid of his wife Siobhan, took centre stage on the Microsoft Teams platform as journalists turned their cameras and mics on and off to pose him questions in turn.
It was during his response to one of these questions where he was discussing the unprecedented amount of games he hoped to oversee in the next year or so that a different kind of interruption emerged. His son Fionn passed by the window with the lawnmower, briefly disrupting the new Irish manager’s train of thoughts.
It no doubt brought a few giggles again but with all bar one camera off and mics muted, that prediction can’t be said with any real degree of certainty.
No doubt Kenny would have laughed with Fionn about it afterwards and while he wouldn’t have appreciated it at the time, the incident was an almost fitting interruption for how surreal this whole episode has been.
Were it not for Covid-19, Kenny could be still waiting in the wings until August to take the reins from Mick McCarthy and were it not for the current pandemic you can be sure the setting for his first dealings with the media would have been far removed from a room in his home in Blackrock.
The former Dundalk boss has made no secret of the fact that this is his dream job. He has had to toil to get there. There have been risks taken along the way and more than a couple of setbacks. Throughout it all the one thing he has had to consistently fall back on in good times and bad was family. Now, rather than celebrate a huge landmark in your life in the way that people traditionally would, he’s at home with only them to celebrate.
You suspect he wouldn’t have it any other way having paid tribute to wife Siobhan and children Niamh, Caoimhe, Fionn and Eoin for their support in getting him to what has always been his final destination.
“I’m very proud to be Irish manager,” he said.
“I’m very privileged, that’s for sure. It’s the ultimate honour really and it’s a proud moment for my family because I wouldn’t be here or be the manager of Ireland without the support of my family. I think that has been obvious.
“Some of my children have moved school three times. Niamh, my eldest, has moved school five times in my career in three different jurisdictions between the North and Scotland. That has been a big commitment from all of them, a massive commitment from all of them.
“All of the moving and moving schools, which is a big ordeal, I wouldn’t be where I am today as manager without their support so I’m grateful for that.”
Despite the “ultimate honour” of the new role, Kenny revealed that there were no real celebrations at his family home in Blackrock when he formally succeeded Mick McCarthy on April 4th.
“We didn’t really celebrate to be honest.
“It was a bit strange because there was so much to organise in such a short space of time in relation to all of the staff and so forth. We didn’t really celebrate to be fair.
“It was just a situation with the family. There’s six of us here in the house on lockdown and I’ve been using the time myself to have a few runs around the place.
“I’ve two daughters and two sons and they’ve all been busy with school work and college work. My daughter is on an internship at home at the moment so she is in lockdown working from home so we’ve a busy house.
“There wasn’t really any celebration because it probably didn’t feel right to do that. You’re looking at television a lot and what’s going on so it wasn’t a celebratory mode. Not that we don’t like to celebrate. I do like to celebrate my victories and I think that’s very important.
“Becoming the Ireland manager is a big event but we had a meal as a family and just discussed it but that was really it. It’s not very euphoric but that was it.”
People from this area will remember the scrutiny Steve Staunton got during his time as Ireland manager and with Kenny the first Irish boss to live in the country since Brian Kerr and before him Eoin Hand, there are fears that he could have several intrusions into his private life.
However, the former Dundalk manager says that is not a concern of his or his family right now.
“It’s not really a concern of mine at all to be honest.
“I’m sure there will be times that may prove difficult but I think the way that I’m looking at and the way my family are looking at it, we’re going to try and enjoy the job rather than be fearful about it or worry about the possibilities.
“I don’t live in Dublin. I don’t live in the middle of the city. I’m not really fearful of that.
“I want to live in Ireland. Ireland is my country. It’s where I was born and I want to live here. It doesn’t mean I won’t be at several games a week in the UK or wherever else I need to be but it’s not something really that bothers me or bothers us at all.
“We’re hoping to just try and enjoy our lives and enjoy this moment. It’s a very special opportunity and we must embrace it and not be fearful. Of course there will be issues but I’m not viewing it through a negative prism.
“We’re just going to enjoy our lives. We haven’t discussed it that much. I’m very comfortable in my own skin and I don’t need to change much and I don’t intend on changing except trying to improve as a coach and a manager. You only get one chance at this job so I have to do everything I can to do the best job that I can.”
Those living in Blackrock will regularly see Kenny out running the roads and despite a health scare in Sweden last September, he says he is fighting fit now.
“I’m absolutely brilliant,” he said when the question was put to him.
“I have no issues at all. I’m in fine health. That’s not an issue at all.”
There is a lot of hope and excitement around Kenny’s Ireland tenure and he insists he knows where he wants to go in the job.
“My experiences both good and bad have led me to a situation where I have absolute conviction in myself.
“I have no doubt in how I will do the job. I’ve a clear vision of what I want and a plan as to how we’re going to get there.”
Kenny has very much arrived.
The current pandemic means we don’t know for certain when we will see him lead the national team into battle for the first time but just like his son was mowing the lawn, you can be guaranteed that Kenny is getting everything in order to ensure he is ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
New Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has raided old club Dundalk FC to add to his backroom team.
The new senior team boss is understood to have recruited the Lilywhites current assistant manager Ruaidhrí Higgins to join him in his new coaching set up, which also includes former internationals Keith Andrews and Damien Duff.
A source at Oriel Park said the move was “likely” but players at the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division holders have already been informed of Higgins’ departure.
The 35-year-old Limavady native played for Kenny at both Derry City and Dundalk before rejoining the Louth men as the club’s opposition analyst in January 2017.
He then later became the club’s assistant manager alongside Vinny Perth in January 2019 following Kenny’s departure to take up the Republic of Ireland U-21 job.
Kenny officially succeeded Mick McCarthy as senior team manager last Saturday after the European Championship play-off with Slovakia was postponed.
Having enjoyed some of the best days of his career under him, Dundalk FC goalkeeper Gary Rogers has no doubt that Stephen Kenny will prove to be a success as the new Republic of Ireland manager.
The former Lilywhites boss took over the senior reins from Mick McCarthy with immediate effect on Saturday following the postponement of the Euro 2020 play-off tie against Slovakia last month.
With a new date for that fixture not expected until later this year and this summer’s European Championships also pushed back until 2021, the FAI felt there was no option but to move up their succession plan which had always been for Under 21 boss Kenny to take charge from August 1st for the next Nations League campaign as well as the qualification process for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has fast tracked that process and brought a premature end to McCarthy’s second stint in charge of the country, Rogers has little doubt Kenny has what it takes to improve Irish football.
“I think Stephen will do a terrific job,” said the 38-year-old. “All you need to do is look at his track record from what we did at Dundalk right through to the U-21s where he came in and very quickly put his stamp on things. They’ve been playing some of the best football that Irish U-21 teams have ever played so that just goes to show some of his capabilities and the way he wants to do things.”
Having featured in the Republic of Ireland squad on a couple of occasions four years ago under Martin O’Neill without being capped and been PFAI chairman since 2015, Rogers is familiar with many of the players who Kenny will be inheriting whenever the international football resumes again. While some will question the level of respect the 48-year-old will command, Rogers has no such concerns.
“If you look at the dressing room you’re going into, it’s an Irish dressing room full of lads who want to play for their country.
“There’s nothing better than playing for Ireland. I obviously wasn’t lucky enough to play but I’ve been in and around the squad and I know that the players that are there all want to play for their country.
“Stephen will tap into that and make the most of it. I’ve no doubt he’ll do an excellent job and play the style of football that has got him there. He’ll be true to his values and his beliefs in the game and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with Ireland and I’d wish him all the best with it because he was terrific for me in my career and it’s great to see him go on and take the national team job.”
Having won three SSE Airtricity League titles under Kenny, as well as being a key figure in Dundalk’s memorable run to the Europa League group stages in 2016, Rogers says the new Irish manager’s ability to get the most from his players is what sets him apart from most.
““He’s an excellent motivator,” said Rogers.
Man to man he is brilliant as well. He knows how to make players tick.”
“One thing that is good about Stephen is he demands a lot off you and he makes you demand more off yourself.
“He doesn’t set the bar at being average. He wants you to set your bar higher and makes you believe that you should be aiming for better things and I suppose 2016 epitomised that when you look at what we achieved. When you look at the scale of things back then in terms of budgets and the teams we played against and how we did then that wouldn’t have been possible unless you have a manager who wants you to go out there and be the best you can be, who believes in you and makes you believe in yourself.
“I think that’s something that Stephen has in his locker. He makes lads aim higher and believe they can do better and if you believe these things then that is half the battle.
“If you look at the teams he has managed and the success he has had and even with what he has done with the young players in the U-21s so far then you’d be hopeful of that continuing in the senior job. He’ll have built up a relationship with a lot of those young players by now and knowing Stephen he’ll have been at every game all over the UK and Ireland and thinking about when he is going to take the reins. Now is that time and I’m sure he’s absolutely ready to take on that role.”
Rogers said he had some sympathy for Mick McCarthy in not getting to finish the job he started but backed Kenny to have the Republic of Ireland present when Euro 2021 group stage games take place in Dublin.
“You’ve got to feel for Mick,” he said.
“It’s difficult circumstances but it’s what the FAI signed up to. You couldn’t have predicted what has happened but it has affected football all around the world. Not just football but everything really. It’s unprecedented times but the contract is the contract and this is what the FAI has decided to do.
“I’ve no doubt that whoever was in charge would be trying to do their best so there’ll be no issue with application. I’m obviously delighted for Stephen to get the opportunity.
Having worked with him and knowing him, it’s great for him personally to get the job and to now have a shot to get us to the Euros.
“When it comes to those games to qualify for the Euros, you’ll get to see him at his best and hopefully he will work his magic and get the right results,” said Rogers.
Stephen Kenny has already secured his first victory as Republic of Ireland manager.
The decision to immediately appoint the former Dundalk boss as the country’s senior team manager in place of Mick McCarthy on Saturday might have been billed by the FAI as their natural succession plan being brought forward by the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in due to the Coronavirus. However, make no mistake about it for many in the FAI this was far from their first choice.
For the past few weeks several stories have been leaked to the national media from some top brass in Abbotstown trying to put pressure on Kenny to put back his August 1st start date to allow McCarthy to oversee the country for the shelved play-off with Slovakia and potentially the Euros themselves next summer if the country got there.
Immense pressure came on Kenny but he held firm. He had it in writing that his contract came into play on August 1st and would not be rolling over.
Why should he either?
After all, contracts have always been based on dates rather than events and while it is somewhat harsh on McCarthy, there will be many others in different walks of life whose contracts will expire during our present lockdown who won’t have the luxury of walking away with a seven figure pay-off.
Remove football emotion from the equation and the only logical step was to bring Kenny in now.
McCarthy loyalists have said he should have been allowed to see through the job he started following the “achievement” of getting Ireland to a play-off in the first place but given that Georgia also secured a play-off for what is now Euro 2021, the only achievement really was in finishing ahead of a Gibraltar side ranked 196th in the world.
Now, more than ever, it is vital that Ireland is represented at next summer’s Euros. With two games in Dublin, it is just the lift the country needs to its mood and coffers on the back of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
For any of those who witnessed first hand the impact Kenny had at Oriel Park, would you doubt him bringing the passion to the international side to get them over the line to be there next summer?
That’s no slight on McCarthy. The game moves on and bar ensuring Ireland were difficult to beat – something his predecessor Martin O’Neill had already nailed – did he really progress things?
There is palpable excitement not just in Dundalk but throughout Irish football about what Kenny can achieve. He’ll stick to his beliefs and focus on the style of football that meant U-21 games were now sold-out affairs rather than an afterthought with a few hundred in attendance.
He’ll have his tough days too. Already, there have been a few condescending comments in the media from former internationals including Richard Dunne and Gary Breen questioning his credentials.
He’s already shown a backbone to get the job. Now he will have the people of this area behind him no matter what.
Aside from his successes at Dundalk, living in Blackrock Stephen Kenny is now very much one of our own.
Just as the people of this area never turned on Steve Staunton when the knives were out for him, they will back Kenny to the hilt no matter what.
Whenever football resumes there will be immense pride in this area at seeing ‘The King’ lead out the national side and stand for Amhrán na bhFiann.
He already has one win under his belt. We can’t wait to cheer on the rest.