It’s been a running theme throughout Stephen Kenny’s three-year reign as Ireland boss, the next game being framed as bigger than the ones that came before and an international window where positive performances and more importantly results could help swing momentum the managers’ way.
Of course, little was expected of the Boys in Green during the previous international window as Ireland headed for Paris to take on the French before hosting the Dutch in Dublin. Both games resulted in defeats to leave Ireland sitting only ahead of minnows Gibraltar in Group B of the EURO 2024 qualifiers with hopes of reaching the tournament in Germany next summer as good as dead.
However, with three group games remaining, a strong end to the campaign could possibly re-open the long-running public and internal debate on whether Stephen Kenny is the man to take Irish football forward in the long-term.
Greece will arrive at the Aviva Stadium on Friday with the Ireland players surely keen to avenge their disastrous display in Athens a few months ago, a performance and result that may be looked back on as one of the final nails in the Ireland manager’s coffin should he fail to weather the current storm he finds himself in.
That Greek game was highlighted as THE defining game of the entire campaign with Kenny and his coaching staff granted an extensive warm-weather training camp in the lead-up to the fixture. What followed was a lifeless display as Greece played Ireland off the park in a 2-1 victory.
Greece’s only win since came in a 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar, who Ireland play in Portugal early next week, so if Ireland could engineer a win on Friday and follow it up in Faro, as they should, it would give the Boys in Green the chance to finish best of the rest behind France and the Netherlands but they would likely need a result in Amsterdam in November to do so.
With yesterday’s news that Ireland will co-host EURO 2028 with the UK, the FAI will be absolutely desperate to ensure the national team is in a strong position to qualify and give the cash-strapped association a much-needed financial boost.
It has been said many times before during Stephen Kenny’s tenure as manager but the next two international windows really are the last chance saloon for the former Dundalk supremo.