Brian Kerr returns to FAI staff as technical adviser to John O’Shea after 19-year exile

Kerr and Glenn Whelan added to interim manager’s backroom team for March friendlies against Belgium and Switzerland

In from the cold, Brian Kerr returns to the Republic of Ireland set-up as a technical adviser under interim head coach John O’Shea for March friendlies against Belgium and Switzerland. It’s 19 years since the FAI cut ties with Kerr after one full qualification campaign as senior manager.

The 70-year-old’s chance to return came out of the blue, following a call from O’Shea on Wednesday.

“I told John that I’ll chase balls into the bushes or go look at players, whatever he needs,” said Kerr. “I’m delighted he feels I’ve something to contribute to international football after all these years. I’ve been stuck on 33 Ireland matches for a while now, so I’ll get to 34 and 35 against Belgium and Switzerland but I’m not sure about what happens after that.”

Glenn Whelan is named as an assistant coach alongside Paddy McCarthy, who took charge as Crystal Palace’s caretaker manager last month when Roy Hodgson took ill.


Whelan, the 91-capped ex-Ireland midfielder, previously worked with the Irish under-16s in 2022 and he coached Bristol City until December.

But it’s the return of Kerr that captures the imagination, after almost two decades in exile from an organisation he first joined in 1982 as a youth coach, assisting Liam Tuohy. Until this week, his last offer to work for the FAI came from former general manager Noel Mooney, the current Wales FA chief executive, to act as a “media watchdog.”

“USSR-stuff!” said Kerr. “I think this role is more like my area.”

Kerr managed the Faroe Islands between 2007 and 2009 but it’s his unprecedented success overseeing Irish youth sides that prompted a recall. In particular, he coached O’Shea’s under-16s to a European title in 1998.

His exact role inside the Abbotstown tent has yet to be defined but it will prove fascinating, especially if he reappears in the Virgin Media pundit’s chair to offer fresh insight into how the FAI conduct their business. Media duties will be paused once he finishes co-commentary on Sunday’s Manchester derby for Off the Ball.

“I think it’s just for a month,” he added. “Whatever John needs.”

Kerr’s consistent criticism on television of Stephen Kenny as Ireland manager was borne out by a disastrous Euro 2024 qualification campaign, when Ireland lost six matches to France, the Netherlands and Greece, home and away. Between 2003 and 2005, his Ireland team lost just four of 33 games while winning 18.

“In football, and in all aspects of life, there are lots of ups and downs,” he told The Irish Times in 2020. “As I said to Gerry Thornley many, many years ago, ‘the way I look at it is, enjoy the good days because the bad days are poxy’. Gerry quoted me. It was probably the first time the word poxy appeared in The Irish Times.”

In that interview, he went into further detail about events behind the scenes at the FAI that eventually led to a €30 million bailout from the Government.

“The end of my time as Irish senior manager, the uncertainty, the lack of support from the FAI, was a dark time. I almost sensed that they were pleased we didn’t win the last match [against Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign] when we needed to. That wasn’t nice.

“It was all about ego, gaining power and maintaining it. And they made a lot of poor decisions after I left, got rid of people who were making a difference to the game, to the League of Ireland, emerging talent, structures, systems and so on.

“It was all about removing people who were viewed as a threat to the regime. It didn’t matter whether they were good for the game or not. It was never about football. And anyone who had strong opinions and was prepared to stand up for their principles was generally discarded.”

FAI director of football Marc Canham was due to explain Kerr’s return from exile at the Aviva stadium this afternoon but the press conference was postponed until Monday due to snowfall. It’s 101 days since Kenny’s contract was not renewed. A permanent head coach will be announced in “early April,” according to the FAI.

This is the second interim management team Canham has pieced together as Eileen Gleeson eventually got the women’s job on the back of six wins in the Nations League last year.

The former Premier League director of coaching stated last week that the processes are similar. This suggests that positive results against Belgium and Switzerland could see O’Shea being offered a four-year contract, especially if Lee Carsley formally rejects the chance to switch from the England under-21s.

Ipswich Town goalkeeper coach Rene Gilmartin, athletic performance coach Damien Doyle, analysts Martin Doyle and Stephen Rice complete the interim Ireland backroom.

“Glenn [Whelan] was an unbelievable servant for his country during his distinguished playing career and we’ll be delighted to welcome him back into the international fold as a coach, having recently spent time with the Ireland under 16s during the Victory Shield,” said O’Shea. “Rene Gilmartin steps up from the Ireland under 21s set-up where he has worked since 2019 and so crucially, already has a great relationship with our current goalkeeper group.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent