- Lifestyle & Sports
- 04 Apr 20
In an extraordinary acceleration of events in Irish football, Mick McCarthy’s reign as Ireland manager is now officially over – and Stephen Kenny’s begins.
The second reign of Mick McCarthy as Ireland manager is over. In what is an extraordinary turn of events, McCarthy’s term has come to an end while Ireland are still in contention for Euro 2020.
This remarkable development – one that almost no one really wanted – comes as a direct result of Covid-19, and the fact that Euro 2020 has been postponed until 2021.
However, it is also fair to say that the dynamite had been placed originally by the FAI, when under the stewardship of John Delaney, a manager succession process was arranged, with Mick McCarthy’s contract ending as soon as Ireland were eliminated from Euro 2020, or at the end of the finals in June 2020 – and Stephen Kenny already in place as his successor.
That might have seemed like a good idea at the time. However, no one had predicted the impact that a pandemic might have on arrangements.
Ireland were due to play Slovakia this month, in the first match in a two-round qualifier play-off. Had they won that game they’d have played Northern Ireland or Bosnia-Herzegovina – who faced off in the other qualifier ’semi-final’ – in a joust that would decide which team would progress to the Euro finals. However, those matches have been postponed until September at the earliest.
Either way, everyone involved was left with a conundrum. If Mick McCarthy stayed in place till after the play-off games, and Ireland qualified, would the pre-ordained succession go ahead, with Ireland.
Legally, the answer was obvious: an agreement had been reached with Stephen Kenny that he would be in situ by September 2020, come hell or high water. And why would he not want to push on, and take up the managerial reins as soon as possible?
It is not clear what negotiations went on – hardly behind closed doors, which is where these things normally take place. But the FAI issued a statement today which confirmed the news. The Interim CEO Gary Cooke – who replaced John Delaney at the helm a couple of months ago – said that it was "a difficult situation for the FAI and for Mick and Stephen in particular.”
That, it might be said, is a huge understatement.
Cooke also praised both Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny for their “professionalism and understanding.” The bottom line, however, is that Mick McCarthy is no longer manager of Ireland. Stephen Kenny will take charge with immediate effect, and will lead Ireland into the play-offs.
That this is a sad way for Mick McCarthy’s involvement with the national team to end goes without saying. There is no doubt that our performances under McCarthy have been far better – and more entertaining – than the footballing fare that was served up during the final couple of years of the Martin O’Neill era.
Perhaps, under his management, we’d have fallen at the play-off hurdle. But recent performances had suggested that Ireland were capable of prevailing. And if so, then the finals would have been a fitting swan-song.
On the flip side, there is little doubt that Stephen Kenny comes to the role with a very impressive pedigree. As manager of the Ireland under-21 side, he has developed a far more possession-based and essentially attacking style of play, which will be exciting to watch, if the senior international side can adapt to it successfully.
But it is very doubtful that Stephen would have wanted his succession to begin in such a higgledy-piggeldy fashion. If the play-off goes badly and we area beaten by Slovakia, it will be a very bad way for the new regime to have started – with one game on which the immediate future will stand or fall.
Of course, if we were to qualify for Euro 2020 via the play-offs, then he’d have a full season to get ready for what could turn out to be one of the most important ever football jamborees.
The full statement issued by the FAI reads:
"The Football Association of Ireland announces that Mick McCarthy is to be succeeded as national team manager by Stephen Kenny with immediate effect. The handover has been agreed with both men in light of the delay to the European Championship play-offs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Mick McCarthy's contract was due to expire on July 31st after the UEFA EURO 2020 finals, with Stephen initially scheduled to step up from his Under-21 team role on August 1st. This move allows Stephen Kenny time to plan for the European Championship play-off semi-final against Slovakia later in the year.
"Interim FAI CEO Gary Owens said: "This has been a difficult situation for the Association - and for Mick and Stephen in particular - in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect it has had on the football calendar.
"On behalf of President Gerry McAnaney, the Board of the FAI and myself, I want to thank both men for their professionalism and their understanding in their dealings with the Association in these unprecedented circumstances. These are exceptional times in Irish life and Mick has taken that into account in agreeing to vacate the post early.
"On behalf of the FAI, I wish to express our gratitude to Mick for his service and commitment to our national team throughout his career and particularly in his second spell as Ireland manager. We wish Mick and his staff well and we thank them all for their hard work in this European Championship campaign to date.
"Stephen will now begin his planning for the play-off against Slovakia and everyone at the FAI wishes him well in our bid to qualify for Euro 2020. Football will be back and we have so much to look forward to now in the autumn with the Nations League and the UEFA EURO 2020 play-off, followed by the World Cup qualifiers in early 2021."