How Stephen Kenny plans to shape new Republic of Ireland era in his image

By Matt GaultBBC Sport NI
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny with assistant manager Keith Andrews
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny with assistant manager Keith Andrews

The Stephen Kenny era has been a long time coming.

In fact, it has been the best part of two years since the former Derry City and Dundalk boss was unveiled as the FAI's choice to lead the Republic of Ireland from 2020.

The original plan, of course, was for Kenny to succeed Mick McCarthy in the Aviva Stadium dugout following Euro 2020.

But with the coronavirus pandemic pushing the tournament finals back a year, the Dubliner is now tasked with securing qualification via the play-offs after taking over from McCarthy in April.

Before their play-off semi-final in Slovakia on 8 October, however, Kenny takes charge for the first time with a testing Nations League double-header against Bulgaria and Finland.

Ahead of Thursday's match in Sofia, here are three things to expect from the Kenny era.

Ushering in next generation

An obvious starting point given his tenure as the U21 boss, yes, but it is difficult to overstate the important role the Republic's young guns will play during Kenny's reign, with his first squad gently pointing towards an exciting future.

There was no place for Southampton forward Michael Obafemi but there were first senior call-ups for Norwich City striker Adam Idah and Brighton midfielder Jayson Molumby, both of whom are tipped for exciting futures at the highest level.

The inclusion of Idah, who scored five goals under Kenny for the U21s, adds even more youthful exuberance to a forward line that includes Aaron Connolly, although the injured Troy Parrott will miss the first two games of the new era.

Adam Idah will hope to impress Stephen Kenny at senior level
Adam Idah will hope to impress Stephen Kenny at senior level

Kenny is a fan of Idah's workrate and prowess on the counter-attack, which the 19-year-old demonstrated at the first time of asking when he scored twice on his U21 debut against Luxembourg in March 2019. The teenager's skill-set offers Kenny a more dynamic dimension compared to traditional target man David McGoldrick.

Molumby has also been rewarded for his consistency under Kenny at underage level. The 21-year-old, who is hoping to break into the Brighton first team this year after an impressive loan spell at Millwall, is an attractive proposition for the Republic as someone who can break forward from midfield with or without the ball at his feet.

And while there were no places in Kenny's first squad for Obafemi, Connor Ronan, Zack Elbouzedi or Will Smallbone, their form for the U21s suggests that the new blood pumping through the 'Boys in Green' will soon extend far beyond Idah and Molumby.

Tactical shift

Kenny, renowned as a shrewd but understated figure, is likely to oversee evolution, not revolution, following his ascension to the senior side.

Such evolution will, however, feature a number of Kenny's tactical philosophies that will help set his Republic side apart from that of his predecessors.

For instance, over time the Republic should become more adept at building attacks from the back.

To achieve this, Kenny likes to see plenty of width from his back four while in possession.

This expansive bloc stretches the opponents and creates space for the centre-backs to find a midfielder, or a full-back who, Kenny believes, should be running onto passes as opposed to having to check their runs to receive the ball to feet.

This should particularly benefit Matt Doherty, whose adventurous runs became an effective outlet for Wolves before the right-back joined Tottenham.

Matt Doherty will be out to add to to his goals tally under Stephen Kenny
Matt Doherty will be out to add to to his goals tally under Stephen Kenny

Kenny, who won five League of Ireland titles with Bohemians (one) and Dundalk (four), prefers to field a midfield trio, which is often two holding players and an advanced playmaker, while he likes to line up with five attacking players, three of whom should be in the box to attack crosses, as he told the FAI in January.

These ideologies, which all work in unison to help Kenny's sides control the tempo of games, may see the Republic become a bolder, more potent attacking force (they scored only seven goals in eight competitive games during McCarthy's second spell).

Strong leadership

Kenny, who led Dundalk to the Europa League group stages in 2016, has already demonstrated his qualities as a leader before a ball has even been kicked under his watch.

He has assembled a strong backroom, full of coaches who have won his trust. Former Dundalk assistant manager Ruaidhri Higgins, who worked under Kenny at Oriel Park, has taken up a role as chief scout and opposition analyst.

Keith Andrews has followed him up from the U21s, while Damien Duff and Alan Kelly are also part of the coaching set-up.

Ruaidhri Higgins and former Republic winger Damien Duff are part of Kenny's backroom team
Ruaidhri Higgins and former Republic winger Damien Duff are part of Kenny's backroom team

Kenny previously outlined his desire for a "clearly defined" backroom team, which meant there was no place for the Republic's record goalscorer Robbie Keane, who had been assistant manager under McCarthy.

That ethos extends to the playing personnel, too, with Obafemi omitted from the squad for the Bulgaria and Finland games due to his lack of experience playing in a front three.

Kenny hopes to line out with a central striker supported by two wide players and admitted that the 20-year-old's lack of experience playing in that central role led to his exclusion.

It showed that Kenny selects his squad based on his system rather than merely picking players who have been performing a club level.

Such an unwavering belief in his own brand of football bodes well for the new Republic boss as he prepares for arguably the most challenging assignment of his 22-year managerial career.

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