Brian Kerr may not be the household name some were expecting to be the new manager of the Republic of Ireland, but Paul Doyle is delighted at the choice
“O shite and onions!” James Joyce once bawled when asked about the ongoing troubles in his homeland. “When is this bloody state of affairs going to an end?” That was in 1920 and the irritant was war; but you can be sure that in recent weeks, were he not worm-fodder, the writer would have lent his haughty voice to those of his many compatriots who were expressing similar sentiments. Because the Roy Keane Affair, regardless of the profundity of its principles, eventually became horribly tedious. And who would have believed it would be the Football Association of Ireland, in a deeply uncharacteristic moment of lucidity, who would consign the whole sorry saga to history and finally refocus Irish football on the future? But that’s just what they did when they named Brian Kerr as the new manager of the Republic of Ireland.
The manner in which they did it was, of course, shabby in the extreme, with even the most uninterested of Dublin drunks being informed of the appointment before the rejected candidates thanks to numerous leaks (which the FAI then accidentally confirmed via a premature posting on its website). Frank Stapleton vented his fury at the process in a Sunday paper two days before Kerr was officially unveiled, and a crestfallen Philippe Troussier only found out when some plucky punter, who blagged his phone number from a French journalist, rang him to say hard luck.
Nonetheless, on the day Kerr was inaugurated in front of almost 200 journos, friends and family in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel, nobody was dwelling on such trifling inadequacies; hell, the feelgood factor was so intoxicating that fans even managed to bury their exasperation at the latest financial scandal to engulf the FAI (the allegation, which was revealed just days before the Kerr appointment, that Mick McCarthy had delayed signing a new contract by six months last year because one of the FAI’s negotiators was secretly advising him to demand more money).
Kerr’s coronation was good news for Irish soccer for several reasons. First and foremost, it meant a dry night’s kip for the millions of fans who had slept in a cold sweat since hearing “informed” British sources insist Bryan Robson was a dead cert for the job. Secondly, it showed that some appointments in this corrupt isle are actually made on merit.
Since the age of 15, when he took charge of his local under-12 team, Kerr has been honing his craft, primarily in the unglamorous surrounds of amateur parks and dingy League of Ireland grounds (he twice won the league with St Patrick’s Athletic, the inner-city Dublin club he has supported since he was eight), but also on the youth international stage (winning both the Under-16 and Under-18 European Championships in 1998, and guiding the Under-20s to third place in the World Youth Cup in 1997).
For most of his career he has been paid a pittance, which is why he only gave up his job as a lab technician in University College Dublin a few year ago. If the tears that welled in his eyes during his first press conference were not proof enough that this is above all else a labour of love for him, one of the first announcements he made was that he’ll never do promotional work. That, as Jack Charlton and McCarthy could tell him, is tantamount to throwing away a million quid across his contact. Bohemians manager Stephen Kenny was right to remark, comparing Kerr to some other candidates, that “Brian will ensure football thrives across the country, his interest won’t be in playing golf and opening pubs.” This, Messrs Reid, Robson and Troussier, is not a man seeking to polish his reputation in order to land a more lucrative post.
Thirdly, as mentioned earlier, it opened the way for the, er, closure of the Roy Keane saga. Kerr and Keane have no history, and since Kerr is renowned for both his meticulous preparation and his tactful man-management, the former captain could blame no one but himself if he remains in exile. The ball is at his feet. He was right about Mick McCarthy, he was right about the FAI, but was he right about himself? We will see.
Whether Keane consents to a second coming or whether he concocts some excuse to stay in comfy Old Trafford, the future of Irish football still looks bright. Roy may be our best player, but the rest are not quite as cack-footed as they looked in the opening two Euro 2004 qualifiers. It was quite poetic to see Gary Breen make a mule of himself as Manchester United, featuring the buccaneering John O’Shea, whipped West Ham 6-0 in the FA Cup last month. Because nothing had better encapsulated McCarthy’s descent into childishness at the end of his reign than his insistence on picking Breen instead of O’Shea (Roy’s team-mate, remember!) at the dodgy heart of Ireland’s defence.
O’Shea is fast, bright and skilled; Breen, and you can tell this to Glenn Roeder, is plod. Kerr will set things right, not just by replacing Breen with a defender, but also by giving a fair deal to the excellent Stephen Reid and by deploying Damien Duff as a winger – not a target man, Mick. Kerr can be trusted to make the most out of the resources McCarthy abused.
From WSC 193 March 2003. What was happening this month