Football Features

“The end of the road” – Stephen Kenny looks set to bow out from Ireland with a whimper

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:00, 18 November 2023

Ireland’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign ended with a very underwhelming 1-0 defeat to Netherlands.

It was always going to be hard task for Stephen Kenny’s side to qualifying through the groups, placed alongside France, Netherlands and Greece as well as Gibraltar. But the nature of the exit will be tough to take.

Having played all eight of their qualifying matches, Ireland finish with just six points from two wins, both coming against Gibraltar. The game against Netherlands on Saturday was mostly about ending on a high, giving the home fans something to smile about.

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Ireland do still have slim hopes of a spot in the playoffs, but they need quite a bit to go their way. If that doesn’t happen, this could have been Kenny’s final competitive game in charge of Ireland.

Kenny’s contract with Ireland is up in the summer, after the end of Euro 2024, though of course that would be irrelevant if the Boys in Green don’t make it to the playoffs. His contract was extended in 2022 at the peak of a good run of results for Ireland in with they lost just one game in 10.

Since that renewal, Ireland have lost 10 of their last 19 games with seven wins, including six defeats in Euro 2024 qualifying. The football has been uninspiring at times, with seven of Ireland’s nine goals in qualifying coming against Gibraltar.

Against Netherlands on Saturday night, Ireland had just twos shot, coming in the fourth minute of the match from Alan Browne and another 80 minutes later from Ryan Manning — both wing-backs.

Ireland did also have a goal disallowed midway through the second half for offside on Adam Idah, though that shot on target is scrubbed out of the record books.

Crucially for Netherlands, they managed to score one of their 19 attempts, when Wout Weghorst opened the scoring in the 12th minute. They had a multitude of chances to increase their advantage but were left ruing Gavin Bazunu in the Ireland goal and a number of blocked shots.

The victory secured Netherlands’ own qualification and Amsterdam was ready to celebrate, but for Ireland the future of Kenny takes centre stage.

Speaking on RTE’s coverage of the game, former Ireland midfielder Ronnie Whelan predicted the end of the line for Kenny, given the results in qualifying.

“You would have to think this is the end of the road for Stephen Kenny. You win two games and they’re both against Gibraltar,” he said.

“You look back on previous groups and there may be a team or two better than Ireland but they always seemed to give a bit more than this.

“With the likes of Greece above us, you would expect something, maybe to beat them at home. You would have to feel that Ireland are looking for another manager but who that is, I have no idea.”

He later added: “I cannot believe how the game went tonight because this is not the greatest Dutch side that I have seen, by far.

“Ireland played it slowly, we played wrong passes and made so many mistakes it’s unbelievable. It’s been a disappointing campaign for the Republic.

“What next? Who next? The new chapter starts soon.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by a lot of Ireland fans on social media who are ready to embark on the new era, whoever it brings.