Colin Sheridan: The grieving is over, but Kenny’s belief should endure

The then Ireland boss insisted we should aim higher, and expect better for ourselves. 
Colin Sheridan: The grieving is over, but Kenny’s belief should endure

Stephen Kenny

"I plucked one feather from my hood and left it on his forehead, for, his, head. For a souvenir, for a warning, for a lick of night in the morning. For a little break in the mourning."

Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers 

When a relationship ends, it’s not untypical to experience the five stages of grief more commonly associated with death - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. None of it is particularly neat or linear. It can happen in a different order and at varying speeds. For the most part, however, the stages are a consistent representation of what we all go through after we lose someone or something close to us. 

In the case of Irish football and outgoing manager Stephen Kenny, however, we are faced with a rather unique inversion of that dynamic - those of us who cared seemed to experience these stages during our relationship with Kenny. So processed was our grief that, by the time he departed last Tuesday, we were so long gone past the emotional phase of acceptance we barely noticed it was the last time we would see him, listen to him, read his eclectic program notes. By leaving Kenny in the job so long, the FAI managed the impossible. They conquered grief.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, and in the case of Kenny and Ireland, it manifested itself not at the end of the relationship, but at the very beginning. There were many - such as Damien Delaney and Brian Kerr - who point-blank refused to believe he ever should have been given the job due to his admittedly lightweight CV, lacking, as it did, any ‘top-flight managerial’ experience. How could a man who has never managed at the highest level communicate with players who earn tens of thousands of pounds a week being coached by the game's best and brightest? 

Sport Top Pics

To the Kenny deniers, his tenure was over before it began. International football was too big a leap from the League of Ireland. Simple as. For the rest of us, we were in denial of the deniers' denial. Just as they refused to accept Kenny, we declined to accept their denial of him, choosing instead to believe in him, in large because he was so idealistic about what the team could achieve, which was in stark contrast to those managers who came before him. So yeah, denial is not just a river in Egypt, but a moat built around Lansdowne Road.

There was anger, too. Anger at Kenny imposing a footballing philosophy upon us that seemed just a tad too foreign for our abilities. What an irony that our most homegrown manager since Kerr was the one so intent on breaking stereotypes. Playing out from the back was never something Trap or Mick McCarthy would’ve encouraged their players to do, even by accident. Kenny was unwavering in his commitment to change. Many - even his supporters - were frustrated by his lack of contingency. That frustration often turned to anger, especially because it was never enough to simply support Kenny, you had to be willing to defend him, too. His naivety, and his inability to confidently express his intentions, often made that difficult.

We were always bargaining. All of us. Kenny, his supporters, the media, his detractors. What if Adam Idah hadn’t sat so close to Aaron Connolly on the plane to Bratislava? What if Christiano Ronaldo wasn’t such a brilliant bastard? What if French goalkeeper Mike Maignan didn’t make such an incredible save from Nathan Collins? Even his attackers had their “if only” moments, like “if only Kenny hadn’t retired Shane Long and Richard Keogh.” It’s part of the process, this confused reasoning. Usually, it happens at the end. For us, it was happening every step of the way.

Whereas anger and bargaining can feel very active, depression can often appear like a very silent, quiet stage of grief. While Kenny’s qualification campaigns were always scored by an aria of hope, it was that same hope that ultimately killed. Kenny's reign comprised 29 competitive fixtures, of which only six - five of them against Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Armenia and Gibraltar twice - ended in victory. So yes, there was a lot of depression. In the immediate aftermath of games lost. In the lengthy breaks between international windows. On the Monday before another qualifier. The hope flickered, but the depression lingered like an insidious fog. Even in the immediate aftermath, it’s hard to find much to be nostalgic about, other than a collection of moments.

It took some of us longer than others, but eventually came acceptance. Acceptance that it was never going to work. Acceptance that Kenny was a good man, a man who deserved better, but it was just the wrong time, wrong place. It was a unique case of it being both it’s not you, it’s me, AND it’s not me, it’s you. The brave loss at home to France earlier this year was a small concession to hope, but the defeat to Greece in June was the moment we started sleeping in separate rooms. We both knew then, but with weddings to attend and joint bills to pay, procrastination seemed a worthy compromise. There were tender moments between us, but denial had long given way to acceptance of a relationship that had run its course.

In truth, as Kenny leaves, there is nothing left to grieve, because we were grieving every step of the way. His appointment. His faith in us. Our optimism. Our relationship with him. The grieving is already over, but what endures is Kenny’s belief that, despite everything, we should aim higher, and expect better for ourselves. For giving us that, we should be forever in his debt.

Any chance of a spring title race?

As Manchester City “fell” to another draw at home to Liverpool at home on Saturday, one could not help feeling a tingle of optimism that, come next April, the Premier League title race might still be alive and kicking. That feeling is felt in a vacuum, however, that sweet spot of ignorance before you allow yourself a glance at the top of the table and realise that, for all Pep Guardiola's recent frustration, Man City are just a point off the top. 

With Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones out injured, Guardiola should take a rather GAA “it’s only the league” approach to the Premier League, consoling himself with the fact that Liverpool are far too inconsistent, Arsenal far too unreliable, and Spurs far too enamoured with themselves to qualify as serious competition. 

Besides, nothing is won in November, except hearts and minds, and the Catalan has little interest in those. City play Spurs, Villa and Luton in their next three league games. It’s quite possible they will be back on top by Christmas. If they are, they could win the league by a dozen points. Which leaves us with very little to care about, save for whether Evan Ferguson can play enough games for Brighton to get himself to 15 league goals. 

Everton, too, may be deserving of our interest, if not our support, given they now find themselves - thanks to a ten points deduction - thrust back into the bottom three despite Sean Dyche working so hard to get them out of it. With no more “international windows” to distract and disrupt momentum, we might be faced with the most uninteresting Premier League season in years. Let us hope Pep waits until Spring to start taking the whole thing seriously again.

Boxing must cleanse itself 

Katie Taylor is rightly regarded as a hero to many, and one of the most inspirational athletes in Irish sporting history. On Saturday night in Dublin, she became the undisputed world super-lightweight champion after she defeated Chantelle Cameron on points in an epic battle. That her incredible night threatened to be overshadowed by its association with Conor McGregor as a sponsor is yet another indicator that boxing needs to cleanse itself of actors who masquerade ringside in the guise of promoters, often in an effort to wash their reputations. Recognition of Taylor’s greatness is sadly tempered by many of those attached to it.

Time to clear up our 10 mystery

Irish Rugby will undoubtedly be lesser after the retirement of captain and talisman Johnny Sexton, but it might become a hell of a lot more interesting. About this time four years ago, reeling as we were from another disappointing World Cup exit in Japan, countless man-hours were dedicated to speculating who would replace - or at least deputise for - an aging Sexton. Four years later, we are none the wiser. The weekend's URC action had us even more confused, with Connacht, Ulster and Munster losing, and Leinster winning with their third-choice ten. The upcoming 6 Nations promises to be nothing if not enlightening.

More in this section

ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Brand Safety FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Examiner Echo Group Limited