Dara O’Shea has backed manager Stephen Kenny to get it right as he attempts to breathe new life into the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
Ireland limped away from their opening Group A fixtures having suffered back-to-back defeats by Serbia and, more surprisingly, Luxembourg, while a 1-1 friendly draw with World Cup hosts Qatar in Hungary on Tuesday evening did little to dispel the gloom.
However West Brom defender O’Shea, who worked under Kenny during his spell as under-21s manager immediately before his elevation to the senior job, insists the players are firmly behind him despite the criticism which has come his way.
The 22-year-old said: “Stephen has been great. I’ve no bad words to say about him. He came in and took the 21s job when I was there and, us as players in the 21s group, we really bought into it.
“It was amazing for us to have the manager who was going to step up to the first team implementing his ways to build us as players stepping into that first-team environment. He’s taken to the job really well here as well, he’s been the exact same.
“Obviously it’s been tough, he hasn’t had it easy with injuries and through Covid and different things like that. There have been lots of barriers in the way.
“As a group, everyone is behind him and everyone backs him. We all really like the way he plays and the way he is with us.
“He’s a great manager and a great tactician. I think he’s just been unlucky and he has the full backing of everyone.”
The draw in Debrecen means Kenny is yet to lead his side to victory in 11 games at the helm, but it is the woeful display his team produced in a must-win clash with Luxembourg three days after losing narrowly in Serbia which has left him under pressure, from the outside at least.
Football Association of Ireland chairman Roy Barrett was quick to voice his support in the wake of the debacle at the Aviva Stadium, and the manager will now focus his attention on a summer training camp and, beyond that, a September fixture list which comprises qualifiers against Portugal, Azerbaijan and the Serbs.
In reality, Ireland will have to pull off a surprise result of their own if they are to stand any chance of making it to Qatar next year, and few would give them much chance of upsetting the latest odds.
However, O’Shea said: “I don’t think anyone can write us off as such. Obviously we haven’t got off to the start we wanted – that’s it now, that’s behind us. We’ve got to look forward, we can’t dwell on it.
“Obviously the other night was tough for each and every one of us to take, but I don’t think you can write us off.
“There are a lot of games still to be played and even in Portugal v Serbia, maybe teams would have been writing Serbia off and they came away with a draw there.
“In international football, anything can happen, as you saw the other night, and there’s definitely still a possibility.”