Category: Archive

Kerr’s last days?

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Driving home after a St. Patrick’s Athletic match at Richmond Park, he took a detour towards the FAI headquarters in Merrion Square. He drove there with the intention of applying for the recently advertised position of Irish youths’ coach. Sitting in his car, he jotted down a letter, slipped it inside an envelope and popped it through the famous green door. Although the official deadline had passed seven and a half hours or so earlier at the close of business, Kerr thought he might still be in time.
The FAI looked kindly on his belated application and it’s not an exaggeration to say the game in Ireland was never quite the same again. Kerr’s subsequent success with underage teams lifted the nation from the ranks of international youths football also-rans to feared opponents. Three amazing summers in succession, teams under his baton reached the last four of major tournaments and won two of them. Perhaps only at this remove can we properly take in the magnitude of that achievement. Better yet, they achieved results with a wonderful combination his assistant Noel O’Reilly liked to call “passion and panache.”
How ironic then that the inability to get results in big games looks like costing Kerr his present job. Despite attempts by some to over-inflate the importance of friendlies, Ireland under Kerr have not managed to win a single competitive game against credible opposition. Should things not go his way over the next fortnight, that last sentence will be the central thrust of every obituary. When a manager can point to Georgia, Cyprus, the Faroe Islands and Albania (the lone member of that quartet to be in FIFA’s top 100) as the only countries he’s managed to defeat in qualifiers, there is very little else to be said.
If the results in Nicosia and Dublin don’t somehow yield a ticket to the play-offs, Kerr is certain not to receive an offer of a new contract. His critics will point to this lack of a major victory of any ilk in a serious game as evidence he couldn’t transfer his underage midas touch to the senior scene. His supporters will argue that Mick McCarthy got Ireland to the World Cup in his third qualifying campaign as manager. Having come into the Euro 2004 campaign halfway through, they’ll contend Kerr deserves another full tilt before being discarded.
A case can certainly be made that not all of this is Kerr’s fault. He can merely work with the players available to him and the present group is not formidable. That much is hammered home by running a finger along the Irish squad the day Roy Keane made his debut against Chile in 1991. Although Real Sociedad had withdrawn John Aldridge and Niall Quinn was out injured, Jack Charlton was blooding Keane alongside the likes of Bonner, Irwin, Staunton, O’Leary, Hughton, Houghton, Townsend, Sheedy, Moran, McGrath, Sheridan and Cascarino. Against that backdrop, the current crop looks positively lackluster.
Even though persuading Keane to return looked like being the defining moment of his reign, Kerr has been working with a very different Keane to the one who bestrode Irish teams under McCarthy. Kerr has never had available to him the finest defensive midfielder in the world – something McCarthy enjoyed between 1996 and Saipan. Indeed, history will show that Keane’s singular magnificence in that era distorted everything else about those Irish teams and disguised many, many flaws.
Another plank of Kerr’s defense is that of the 13 he used against France, Andy Reid was the only one who didn’t figure under McCarthy. The only difference being all of those players are now at different stages of their careers, older, and apart from Given and Duff, definitely not better. Should Kerr be blamed for failing to introduce new players or are the players just not there? It’s probably a little bit of both.
Just like the old Irish rugby set-up, it seems much harder to get left out of the squad than it is to get into it, and in particular, the manager’s continued selection of Manchester United reserve team stalwart Liam Miller is baffling. On the other hand, it’s not any of Kerr’s doing that Robbie Keane has (his wonder goal last Saturday notwithstanding) failed to convince Martin Jol to start him for Spurs or that Aiden McGeady has fell to earth with a worrying thud at Parkhead. Not to mention an entire generation of promise – step forward Messrs. McPhail, Barrett, Partridge and Mahon — utterly failed to come through at the highest level.
The other consideration as Kerr moves nearer the exit is whether there is anybody better qualified for the job currently available. Presuming Martin O’Neill’s wife’s illness precludes him, who else is there? Well, in a week when Jason McAteer has been bizarrely touting his ambitions to manage Ireland, the prospect of Roy Keane doing so is far more likely and immediate. English-based and a huge name, he perfectly fits the bill for what many presume the FAI chief executive and Kerr nemesis, John Delaney, is looking for in the next manager.
Given Keane’s well-publicized intention to depart Old Trafford, it’s not a stretch to imagine Delaney offering him the job on a name-your-own-terms basis in early November. That may stick in the craw of the large number of people who still regard his behavior in Saipan as traitorous but it’s a very real possibility. While Keane is shrewd enough to have seen how Mark Hughes used the Welsh job as a platform for his club management career, there are obstacles to him taking over any time soon. How would this time-consuming appointment square with his oft-professed love for his wife and kids and could he balance it with a desire to continue his playing career?
These are questions for which Delaney is probably already seeking to provide answers.

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