Delays caused by coronavirus could be opportunity for FAI

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.

On and off the pitch, depending on your perspective, the gift of time triggered by the coronavirus presents the FAI with an opportunity or challenge.

Those craving the ascension of Stephen Kenny to the role of senior Ireland boss view the Euros, postponed till 2021, as the stage for the young manager’s influence to showcase Irish football.

Given the mangled nature of the succession plan they inherited, there is the possibility of the new FAI hierarchy allowing Kenny the platform of qualifying them too, were the play-offs postponed again till September.

More probable is the regime ranking loyalty over small print, thereby seeing to it that McCarthy’s run to the finals can only be thwarted by defeat on the pitch.

Whoever is at the helm is sure to sway the composition, especially the age-profile, of the squad Irish fans will lean on for recreating the type of memories broadcast in recent weeks to living rooms via ‘The Boys in Green’ documentary series.

Unfairly or not, McCarthy is associated with the present and past while Kenny’s reputation is indelibly linked to the future.

That comparison naturally stems from the strides Kenny is making, from both development and results perspectives, in his fixed-term post as U21 manager.

Following a barren decade in the Premier League for Irish graduates, this season has seen an explosion of tyros.

Aaron Connolly, Troy Parrott, Adam Idah and Michael Obafemi have all featured in what’s regarded as the best league across Europe.

Although none of that quartet are regular starters for their clubs, Dara O’Shea, Conor Masterson, Jayson Molumby and even Nathan Collins are in the Championship.

And, by design or otherwise, the aforementioned have McCarthy’s heir Kenny to thank for their international progress.

They’ve all contributed to his team’s rise to the top of their Euro qualifying group, pushing them to the brink of a first ever major tournament.

Moreover, the manager-in-waiting has been swift to talk up his willingness to take risk when it comes to budding talent.

Last summer, he went so far to suggest that Joe Hodge, the 16-year-old Manchester City midfielder wanted by his homeland of England, is the type of player the FAI should be to fast-tracking through the system.

It might have seemed an odd assertion to League of Ireland fans owing to Kenny’s meagre record in that regard over his trophy-laden spell at Dundalk.

There can be no doubting McCarthy’s stance on the topic. It’s one he’s entitled to considering senior level has been the sole domain of his managerial career.

For his World Cup final squad selection in 2002, Premier League players Gary Doherty and Rory Delap were left behind, the latter just months after becoming Southampton’s record signing at €5.5m. Stephen Reid only got the call after Mark Kennedy withdrew through injury.

“I’ve said all along that the players who walked off the pitch following the play-off in Iran six months ago haven’t suddenly become not good enough to travel,” McCarthy reasoned.

He’s adopted a similar approach in the case of Glenn Whelan.

Despite being 36 and lining out for Fleetwood Town, the Ireland manager indicated his place in the team, never mind the squad, for the planned trip to Bratislava wouldn’t be threatened by top-flight regular James McCarthy.

Sceptics have pointed out that the bigger the clamour for a gem to be promoted, the less chance McCarthy has of obliging.

Connolly, whom he called up for the first time back in September on the day he bagged his first Premier League goals, has recently struggled for game-time at Brighton since contract talks stalled. McCarthy pointed out that the Galwegian had ‘vanished’.

Be it in June or September, those emerging from Kenny’s hothouse on their currently trajectory are likely to possess stronger credentials for first competitive minutes against the Slovaks.

Come 15 months’ time at the finals, hopefully with Ireland involved, the debate should be non-existent.


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