The news yesterday (Wednesday) that Noel King has stepped down as manager of the Republic of Ireland U-21s will come as no real surprise following the squad’s failure to qualify for the 2019 European Championships. He had been in charge of the national U-21 side for eight years and in that time had never qualified for the biannual competition. Such a run has hardly helped players to grow in confidence ahead of their graduation to the senior ranks.
However, King’s resignation is just one of a number of changes needed in order to breathe life back into Irish football. There has been speculation recently that the senior international team, of which King was interim manager at one point, may also be set for a change of management, with Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny the name on quite a number of lips.
Kenny has done exceptionally well in the League of Ireland and has overseen a breakthrough in Europe with Dundalk, and while I agree with Martin O’Neill’s recent comments that the domestic game is not quite where it needs to be in order to filter into the national team, someone like Kenny could prove to be a breath of fresh air.
Recent international performances have lacked confidence, composure or any sign of inspiration. The national pool isn’t exactly an embarrassment of riches, but it shouldn’t be too much to expect our players to be able to attempt to play football at least. Confidence at the elite level is key and the U-21s should be used as a major stepping stone in terms of the development of domestic players. Exciting things are happening at the U-19 grade and therefore a fresh outlook is now needed at U-21 level…and perhaps at senior level too.