In John O’Shea the FAI has found an Irishman who wants the job and believes he is ready for it

FAI’s Marc Canham gave the impression he has a new permanent manager already lined up

The new Ireland interim head coach John O’Shea was explaining that the Irish team needs to be flexible.

“It’s not just a case of playing out from the back,” he said. “Teams mix it up when they have to. We will be able to mix it up when we need to, we will be able to play when we need to, and we will be able to fight as always when we need to. It will be a mixture of everything.”

Sitting next to O’Shea the FAI’s director of football Marc Canham agreed.

“Just on the style of play...” Canham interjected. “The reality is, where we are at the moment, and where we’re ranked, we’re always going to be in a group with teams that are ranked above us, and always with some teams ranked below us. So we absolutely want to have a framework of how we want to play, but it has to be adaptable because we are always, at the moment, going to be playing teams who by the ranking are stronger than us, and by the ranking are weaker than us. So we have to have a really adaptable way of playing against different teams as we build and take ourselves through the rankings and get ourselves the best chance to qualify.”


The statement was delivered with such smooth confidence that you mightn’t even notice it was virtually contentless. Ireland will always be playing against some teams that are stronger and some teams that are weaker? Does this not simply describe the way football is and always has been, for not just Ireland but nearly every team?

Insofar as Canham’s interjection meant anything at all, it was an admission that after a spell of professed commitment to what Stephen Kenny liked to call “progressive” football, the FAI no longer has a preferred style of play. The new manager will be judged on results.

That is not the only FAI principle which has evolved over the last couple of years. “I do firmly believe that it’s really important that we continue to have an Irishman at the top of our Irish coaching system,” the CEO Jonathan Hill said as he announced Stephen Kenny’s contract renewal in March 2022.

Shamrock Rovers coach Stephen Bradley had stated that case forcefully over the weekend, arguing that the generation of coaches now emerging in Ireland compare to anyone else in the world: “I think it’s foolish to look anywhere else. We obviously identify with the country and what way this country needs to play. I think it’s really important that we understand what Irish people want.”

The FAI is now agnostic on this issue. “Having an Irish connection or being Irish is a massive plus of course, but I don’t think we’re fixed on having to be Irish, for the coach,” Canham clarified yesterday.

In John O’Shea they have found an Irishman who clearly wants the job and believes he is ready for it. O’Shea, now 42, revealed that he has been dreaming of an opportunity like this since he was in his late 20s. As the third most capped player in Ireland’s history, he naturally begins the job already commanding the affection and respect of the fans.

But Canham gave the impression that he has a new permanent manager already lined up, and that only “existing contractual obligations” prevent him from announcing the identity of that new manager until early April.

The timing suggests that the international window at the end of March represents some kind of punctuation point in the favoured candidate’s current work obligations. Two of the candidates who have been publicly linked with the position will be on duty with national teams during the March window. Lee Carsley will lead England’s under-21s in Euro qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, while Anthony Barry will be with Portugal for their friendlies against Sweden and Slovenia.

Carsley’s team is in the process of qualifying for the 2025 Under-21 Euros and after the March games they don’t play again until September. Last October they won their home qualifier against Serbia 9-1. Is it possible he is sick of winning and wishes to test himself in the crucible of heartbreak that is managing Ireland?

Barry’s main job is working alongside Thomas Tuchel at FC Bayern, but with the Bavarians having recently confirmed that Tuchel will leave at the end of the season (assuming they don’t sack him before then), the 37-year-old training-ground sensation will be looking for a new gig from June. But Portugal will be playing in the Euros then, and their astonishing record since the Qatar World Cup suggests they will be major contenders in Germany.

In the meantime O’Shea will head a big-name interim ticket which also includes Paddy McCarthy, Glenn Whelan, and Brian Kerr, who has been recruited in an advisory role.

It sounded as though Kerr’s name had been proposed by Canham, with O’Shea agreeing that the ex-Ireland manager, with whom he won the Under-16 European Championships in 1998, could offer valuable input.

Thus ends the nearly 20-year exile of one of the most distinguished figures in Irish football, who was locked out of the international game because the tin-pot dictator who used to run the association took against him. Kerr has outlasted his enemy. He returns to the international set-up at 71, a year younger than Bobby Robson was when he was appointed as consultant to Steve Staunton in 2006. It goes some way to making up for a historic injustice. And from the FAI’s point of view, if Kerr isn’t hammering them on Virgin all international week that is obviously an added bonus.