YOU would be hard pressed to find a manager who has had to wait nearly two years, as Stephen Kenny has, to take charge of their first match.
The newly installed Ireland manager, who was confirmed to take over from Mick McCarthy in November 2018 and assumed the job in April, will be in the Irish dugout for the first time this evening as his team face Bulgaria and then again when the boys in green take on Finland in the Uefa Nations League on Sunday (September 6).
While this is being touted as a long-term project, Kenny will be keen to start well as there are still some question marks over his credentials for the job, having only performed as a manager in the League of Ireland after a disappointing stint in Scotland.
From looking at his first squad, what’s clear is that the former Dundalk manager is not scared of making big decisions and will be backing youth during his tenure for Ireland.
Luckily, he inherits a promising generation, particularly up front with the likes Brighton’s Aaron Connolly, Norwich’s Adam Idah and Troy Parrott, who is on loan at Millwall. All three of those players, aged between 18 and 20, have been picked in the squad, along with Jayson Molumby, 21, in midfield.
After a more defensive approach with McCarthy, Martin O’Neill and Giovanni Trapattoni over the last decade or so, there is rightly a feeling of excitement and anticipation with Kenny, who, it is hoped, will implement a more attacking, attractive style of play.
However, at the same time, he will know that there will be no point in trying to play desirable football if the results don’t back it up and the team isn’t making it to major tournaments.
That is why it will be imperative he maintains the team’s strong points in defending and being hard to play against, while finding a balance between youth and experience.
In that respect, the omission of Glenn Whelan from the squad certainly raises an eyebrow.
Although the 36-year-old is now playing in England’s third tier for Fleetwood Town, in the last qualifying campaign he was one of Ireland’s best performers.
You would have thought that, at the very least, his experience in one of the youngest Ireland squads for years would have been of some value to Kenny.
Yet it is obvious that Kenny is trying to raise expectations and belief in Irish football.
He has left the door open for Whelan in the future and has told Southampton’s Michael Obafemi, who was miffed -perhaps rightly so - at missing out on the squad, that he must perform well with the under-21 team first.
Time will tell whether this bold, fearless approach is going to work for Kenny. But one thing for sure is that it seems he isn’t going to go down without trying.
"We haven't been in a World Cup since 2002, and these are the things we want to rectify,” he said to Sky Sports. “We want good international results, and that's what we want to achieve.”
Ireland take on Bulgaria this evening at the Vasil Levski National Stadium, catch the action at 7.45pm, Sky Sports