The FAI made a quick decision on Stephen Kenny’s future last week, confirming that the Dubliner was not getting a contract extension less than 24 hours after the 1-1 draw against New Zealand in Dublin last Tuesday. Finishing with a friendly international was awkward for Kenny after the defeat to Holland the previous Saturday and the attendance at the Aviva last week was only 26,000. It was strange to see Ireland wear a new black strip against a New Zealand team wearing white. But, of course, the New Zealand soccer team are known as the All Whites.
So, who is going to be our 12th full time manager and follow in the footsteps of: Mick Meagan, Liam Tuohy, John Giles, Eoin Hand, Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr, Steve Staunton, Giovanni Trapattoni, Martin O’Neill, McCarthy again and Kenny? Right now, it looks like former Northern Ireland international Neil Lennon is the favorite with the bookies and as we all know they are pretty good when it comes to horse-racing, but I think they do get it wrong when it the appointment of international football managers.
Lennon, who had two spells as manager of Celtic, has been out of work since October 2022 when he was sacked by Cypriot club Omonia Nicosia after a run poor run of results. He was linked with the Ross County job after Malky Mackay was sacked last week. Also on the list is former Irish international midfielder Lee Carsley, who has been doing a good job as England under-21 manager. However, outside of caretaker spells at Coventry City and Brentford, Carsley, who qualified for Ireland through his Cork-born grandmother, has never managed at first-team club level. Steve Bruce had been mentioned, but I think that may have been initially as a short-term solution, but now he seems to have support.
That leaves Chris Hughton, Roy Keane and Gus Poyet, who has been putting his name forward as his time with Greece is up. Hughton has done a good job at various clubs in England and he is currently Head Coach to the Ghana national team. Keane, who was assistant to O’Neill, has often said he would like to get back into club management, but he could if interested in the job could lift the morale. Roy is now a popular analyst with Sky Sports, but he has been known to get frustrated by the lack of talent available and the jury is still out on his man-management skills. There are a lot of English people working at a senior level in the FAI right now and my guess is that we could get an English appointment.
SWITCH TO IRFU SEVENS
While she wasn’t anticipating a smooth transition, Vikki Wall has said that switching from Gaelic football to Sevens rugby has been even more of a challenge than she originally envisaged. A two-time All-Ireland winner with her native Meath in Ladies football Wall also played Aussie Rules for North Melbourne in the 2022 AFL Women’s season. After one year in Australia Wall was given an opportunity to join the IRFU’s Sevens programme as a centrally contracted player and she is now focussing on establishing herself in the Irish Sevens set-up. The Irish women’s team will kick-off their World Series campaign with a tournament in Dubai on the weekend of Dec. 2-3 and Wall has been named in the squad. Vicki said: “It’s very challenging, in so many different ways. First of all, coming into a team that has already qualified for the Olympics, you definitely have to be conscious of that. Then you also have to back yourself as well, so it’s that kind of better of two evils. You can’t walk in the door and be screaming and shouting. You also have to have some form of confidence from where I’ve come from previously. It’s harder just in terms of the intricacy of it, almost. Things that I do almost instinctively in other games that I could definitely transfer easier to AFLW, that definitely don’t transfer to here.’’
Vikki Wall. [Inpho/Dan Sheridan]
EQUITY AT TOP LEVEL
The GAA has recently brought their female representation at the top level to the Government’s target of 40 per cent and the FAI is hoping that their delegates will vote for the necessary changes in their board when they hold their AGM on Dec. 10. Meanwhile the Irish Athletic Boxing Association has agreed to double its number of independent directors from two to four. The decision, which was taken at a reconvened AGM, meets the Government’s directive on female representation.
FOR DUBLIN IN 2027
The 2027 Aer Lingus College Football Classic in Dublin will be played between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Pittsburgh Panthers in an announcement that has ramifications for the future of American football events in Ireland. The selection of both teams continues the tradition of sides from college football’s Power Five conferences playing in Dublin. The selection of Pitt to play in 2027 could be a sign that the Steelers are also eyeing a similar timeframe for a game in Dublin. For the College Classic it’s a sign that the long-term future of the event is in healthy condition, as a 2027 date suggests the game will continue to be a part of the Irish sporting calendar for each of the next four years, starting with next year’s meeting of Florida State and Georgia Tech, who currently have Kerryman David Shanahan on their roster as a punter.
FOR NEW SKIPPER
Munster head coach Graham Rowntree has been left with problem following Peter O’Mahony’s decision to step down as captain after a decade leading the side as there is no obvious replacement. Jack O’Donoghue has been the regular player to step in for O’Mahony in recent years as captain but he is not guaranteed a starting place, while hooker Diarmuid Barron is among others who have recently led the men in red. Conor Murray, like O’Mahony is 34, and has Craig Casey snapping at his heels while new stars like Jack Crowley need more time to establish themselves in the team before being burdened with such a responsible role. Rowntree may follow Leo Cullen’s example in Leinster and appoint a couple of joint captains. It’s certainly the end of an era for Munster with O’Mahony going out on a high leading them to their first silverware in 12 years, going back to 2011 when the Cork native skippered them on a temporary basis for the first time when he was just 21. He took over the role full-time in 2013 when Rob Penney appointed him and since then Anthony Foley, Rassie Erasmus, Johann van Graan and Rowntree have kept faith in him.
O’Mahony has also captained Ireland and the Lions and while he will undoubtedly continue to have a huge influence in the dressing room, his departure from this role is disruptive in a squad very much in transformation.
Meanwhile Connacht, who are unbeaten at home in the Sportsground this year, are hoping for a full house of over 8,000 when Leinster visit for an URC game on Saturday next.
TERRY VENABLES, 80
The death occurred on Sunday of former England manager Terry Venables at the age of 80 after a long illness. Venables managed England from 1994 to 1996, most notably leading them to the semi-finals of Euro 96 on home soil. Barcelona and Tottenham were among the clubs teams he managed. Venables won La Liga and reached the European Cup final with Barcelona, and lifted the FA Cup with Tottenham. As a player, he won only two England caps and made more than 500 club appearances between 1960 and 1975, largely for Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham. Upon his death on Sunday, BBC soccer writer Phil McNulty praised his "superb man-management style and his razor-sharp tactical acumen,” which former player and BBC presenter Gary Lineker said he was the best manager England ever had.