Subscriber OnlySoccer

Kevin Kilbane: FAI’s interim plan could yet prove permanent

Return of Brian Kerr to work with John O’Shea is a victory for common sense

A few weeks back, I said the new Ireland manager’s first call should be to The Greener. John O’Shea had the same idea.

Brian Kerr is one of the most influential people in the history of Irish football. He has been shamefully overlooked by the FAI since 2005.

I don’t say that lightly. For almost two decades, it has needled away at many people who care about the game here.

The senior players, me included, let Brian down during the 2006 World Cup qualification campaign. Two-nil up against Israel in Dublin and we drew 2-2. And there was that last minute equaliser in Tel Aviv.


So I’m delighted with his appointment as an adviser to O’Shea but my heart is not ruling my head. Kerr has seen it all. Tapping into his football mind is a no-brainer.

It’s a victory for common sense. Even if Kerr did not become Ireland manager in 2003, his place in our football folklore was secure. It’s mad to think we won the Euros at under-16 and under-18 level in 1998. O’Shea was on that 16s team. “Kerr’s Kids” also took bronze at the World Youth Championships in 1997. I was gutted to miss the Malaysia adventure through injury, although Mick McCarthy handed me a senior cap a few months later.

Back then, Kerr had Ireland primed to qualify and compete at major tournaments deep into the 2020s. He was laying tracks for the long road ahead. But all his future-proofing was dismantled after 2005.

It’s a clever appointment by the FAI, both from a practical and PR perspective.

Not that O’Shea needs the help, certainly not in the way Bobby Robson’s appointment alongside Steve Staunton was framed back in 2005. Still, it cannot be ignored that O’Shea has no experience as the top man, nor do his assistant coaches Paddy McCarthy and Glenn Whelan.

I wonder how “interim” these appointments really are, as FAI director of football Marc Canham played the same card last year before handing Eileen Gleeson the women’s job on a more permanent basis. It’s definitely the FAI’s Plan B. We all know who they want.

In the meantime, I’m here to tell you that O’Shea may be beloved from Waterford to Sunderland, but many moons ago he made me buy a horse. Six or seven of us in the Ireland camp invested in the “Dubs vs Culchies syndicate”. We had some wild times with St Devote, especially when Nina Carberry rode our first winner at Bellewstown in 2009. We were in camp, crowded around a radio, like olden times. Imagine the scene as a handful of Irish internationals screamed Nina into the winners enclosure. Trap and Tardelli left us at it.

After the bay gelding romped home at Listowel, Tipperary and Roscommon under Barry Geraghty’s whip hand in 2011, we looked to Aintree in springtime. It was not to be, St Devote’s race was largely run, a brief comet across the horse-racing universe.

O’Shea’s return to the Ireland camp could prove similar. Or so we are led to believe. We could do a lot worse.

When the professional footballers moves into the next phase of life, be that coaching, media, dancing-on-ice or whatever tickles their fancy, it’s their character that is remembered most. Not performances. Not medals. But how you treated people.

Take a trip to the Stadium of Light. Ask around. I know what it is like to be a Sunderland player when results are spiralling downward. It’s a relatively small working-class city. O’Shea gave the club seven years, a period that coincided with successive relegations from the Premier League to League One. And still, his name stands out. He stood tall on the bad days, kept his cool when others couldn’t.

That’s the Ireland gig in a nutshell. Last year, O’Shea the coach sat in the dugout behind Stephen Kenny and Keith Andrews in Athens and some miserable nights at the Aviva Stadium.

Canham must have seen enough in those camps or heard feedback from players to know that O’Shea can keep the squad ticking over.

Deep down, I’d say John knows this opportunity has come too soon. And clearly, turning to him is not part of the FAI master plan. No harm admitting as much. Canham has interviewed several candidates in his “robust, professional, confidential process”. If the number one choice has slipped away, he should announce the coach that has been secured.

Maybe he’s trying to avoid a repeat of John Delaney announcing McCarthy and Kenny at the same time with O’Shea and Lee Carsley?

But fill the void. Before others do with speculation and guesswork. Somewhere in the last 101 days, something went wrong. We continue to wait, and wait, for a four-year appointment of the new Republic of Ireland manager.

The FAI never wanted an interim coach. The appointment of O’Shea could be masking a deeper problem. If he engineers wins over Belgium and Switzerland, and Canham cannot nail down the primary target, the FAI might simply go with the flow.

That’s what happened with Gleeson and the vacant Ireland women’s job. Stranger things have happened in FAI-land.