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Malachy Clerkin: If John O’Shea does nothing else, at least he has righted the wrong done to Brian Kerr

For 19 years, it has always been an unconscionable waste to have Kerr doing more to improve football in the Faroe Islands than in Ireland

However long the John O’Shea era lasts, he won’t be accused of going all hipster football on the Irish public anyway. A coaching ticket that includes himself (one of the most decorated Ireland players in history), Paddy McCarthy (most recent Ireland player to manage a Premier League team), Brian Kerr (lost four games from 33 as Ireland manager) and Glenn Whelan (ninth on the all-time list of Ireland caps) is very back to basics. Not a single anonymous, pointy-headed, expected goals guru in sight.

Understandably so, in fairness. If O’Shea has no designs on the full-time role – and everyone involved appears to be happy enough to put that out there as a statement of fact – then this is a month’s work. More pointedly, it’s two games in four days in Lansdowne Road. Belgium and Switzerland are both going to the Euros in the summer, Ireland are not. The brief is to get in and get out, avoid embarrassment and, not unimportantly, usher bums on to Aviva seats.

The latter probably isn’t in the top dozen reasons O’Shea rang Kerr on Wednesday but it definitely doesn’t hurt. There will be those who dismiss Kerr as yesterday’s man, who won’t forgive him for being in advance of the pack in criticising the Stephen Kenny project, who don’t like him as a pundit and basically can’t take his accent. Those people should and will be shunned. We’ll get them leper’s bells and tell them they’re not to take them off until April.

The Greener is back! Years ago, one of the writers in The Irish News described the Derry manager Eamonn Coleman as “a darling of the southern media”. He definitely didn’t mean it kindly but he was equally definitely correct. By the same token, anyone who takes to social media over the next month and snarkily describes Kerr as the press pack’s pal or some such won’t be far off the mark.


That doesn’t make it a bad idea though. If all he does is act as a bit of a mudguard for O’Shea, drawing attention away from the interim manager’s inexperience and feeding the media machine for a day or two here and there, then that’s not nothing. God knows the Ireland set-up could do with a splash of the residual goodwill that exists for Kerr, both within the game and out among the public. There’s no downside to his involvement.

More to the point, a wrong has been made at least some way right here. It has always been a sign of unconscionable waste that Brian Kerr has done more for football in the Faroe Islands over the past 19 years than for the game here. Any time you wanted to sum up the egos and the back-stabbing and the down-and-dirty smallness of the FAI, all you had to do was remember that Kerr was making a living behind a microphone.

We do this all the time in Irish sport. We discard home-grown expertise as if we’re so suspicious of the home-grown element of it that we ignore the expertise bit. Brian Kerr, Billy Walsh, Eddie O’Sullivan – all of them ended their time with their respective sports here earlier than they wanted to and none of those sports felt the need to take a backward glance.

Why not? Bull-headed ignorance, for one thing. A conviction within those sports that you can’t move forward by retracing old ground, certainly. An instinct for jealously guarding one’s own patch on the part of certain administrators occasionally fed into it too, of course.

But there was always a more insidious side to it as well. Namely, there existed factions within all those sports who held that the likes of Kerr and Walsh and O’Sullivan weren’t half the gurus that their admirers made them out to be. When Walsh was breaking with the IABA and heading off to United States in 2015, one official close to the negotiations told me that there were people in boxing who still saw him as a milkman from Wexford who got lucky.

There is more confidence in Irish sport now than was the case even just a decade ago

Kerr has always had a bit of that too. He was a lab technician out in the real world. He had lived at least a slice of life that wasn’t completely consumed by football. And what football he had been involved in was either at underage or domestic level. So even if the peculiar nastiness of FAI politics hadn’t made him persona non-grata after his stint as Ireland manager, there would still have been that view of him as a bit too much of an ordinary sham.

Maybe that’s changing a little. There is more confidence in Irish sport now than was the case even just a decade ago. More faith in the structures and the pathways and the idea that professional sports coaching isn’t something you have to leave these shores to be respected in.

The Irish assault on the Olympic rowing regatta will be led by Dominic Casey, which is as it should be. But equally, regardless of the organic success he has had below in Skibbereen, it wouldn’t always have been guaranteed in the past. When the latest head coaching job in Irish rugby came up, Richie Murphy’s work with the Ireland under-20s was rewarded and he’ll take over at Ulster. Small steps, maybe. But in the right direction for sure.

The return of Brian Kerr is something apart from all that but it’s no less welcome. And it says plenty about the man that he didn’t hesitate when one of his former stalwarts came calling. Kerr managed Ireland for 33 games – O’Shea started 26 of them. Only Shay Given, Kenny Cunnigham and Kevin Kilbane played more often.

“I told John that I’ll chase balls into the bushes or go look at players, whatever he needs,” Kerr told Gavin Cummiskey yesterday. If you don’t have time for a former international manager with that sort of humility, it’s hard to know what to tell you.

O’Shea might only do this job for a month. You don’t need to be one of Kerr’s dreaded media mates to see that this is a good start.