Roy Curtis: The Stephen Kenny era is about to disappear below the waterline

Fans will understand, but few could argue that the Irish coach has exploited his team’s potential to the last drop

The admirable but finite stream of unparalleled patience, authentic affection, generosity of spirit and honeyed benevolence that lifted Kenny above legitimate criticism has been waning for several months.

It will come to a standstill tonight should the Netherlands plunder Lansdowne Road, rendered impotent by a rising backlash of verifiable and inconvenient truths.

And a manager weighed down by the grueling grind of a single competitive win against nations ranked in the world’s top 85 will disappear below the waterline.

As you scan the gray, desolate horizon, there is little sign of an approaching lifeboat that could rescue the weakened Dubliner from the choppy and unforgiving seas.

Only a roaring echo of Jason McAteer’s 2001 Dublin Howitzer, so memorable for the Dutch of Van Nistelrooy, Stam, Kluivert and Overmars, can smash the gunboat of doubt attacking an already sailing Irish ship, one with an expanding wound torso.

Kenny’s review of noble failure suggests that such an outcome is nothing more than the longest attempt.

A manager who was outwitted by Luxembourg in Dublin and whose five competitive wins came against teams ranked 30, 89, 90, 121 and 198 in FIFA outside Broadway is unlikely to include Gakpo, Van Dijk and De Jong in his Make your boots tremble.

A coach who seems unable to iron out familiar mistakes and wrinkles – the annoying pattern of conceding goals from distance and repeated acts of immediate self-harm after half-time – can only escape sensible and damning criticism for so long.

Nothing short of an unlikely victory tonight can delay the hour of judgment.

The same FAI that showed reckless recklessness – and extremely poor judgment – in defeat to the successful and history-making Vera Pauw can hardly sit idly by and see another qualifying campaign so quickly unraveled.

Of course, there will be empathy for a coach who is deprived of the treasure trove of talent that glamorized previous eras; I also sympathize with Kenny’s sincere and ambitious attempt to convey some semblance of artistic merit.

And, of course, there is justifiable skepticism that a coaching change will lead to a noticeable improvement in the fortunes of an Irish team that has been historically impoverished in key areas, particularly in midfield.

Few will be happy to see a man with such optimistic – if sometimes quixotic – tactical vision left alone as the final body to be buried in Abbotstown Cemetery.

Kenny dreamed big, splashing a depressingly monochrome canvas with a splash of ambitious color.

Sadly, the last remnants of this fireball of hope were extinguished on a gloomy midsummer night in Athens.

An inexplicably harmless defeat to Greece was a reminder that in the relentless finale of major professional sport, romance will always be secondary to results.

And unfortunately, by these most brutal standards, it’s impossible to make the case that Kenny should just move on.

The initial saccharine touch of optimism that accompanied the crowning of the League of Ireland’s Golden Child has given way to the more sour taste of reality.

A European Championship qualification campaign, like the recent dead World Cup offensive, is on the verge of premature destruction.

Costly (in terms of future seeding) missteps at the Nations Cup further mar Kenny’s Irish CV.

Despite the undeniable visual and aesthetic upgrade, despite the continued increase in available places at major finals, Ireland’s recent qualifying campaigns have enjoyed the fleeting life expectancy of a flash in the pan, here today and gone tomorrow.

Richie Sadlier’s verdict from an RTÉ studio late on Thursday evening was one of sober pragmatism: “We are here to qualify for a tournament, we are not here to praise players for their hard work.”

“It seems like we’re constantly falling short, but we say we’ll take the positives and move on.” Unfortunately, it happens too often…

“We have now won one in four. Stephen’s record in competitive games is that he wins one in five. It’s five wins in 25.”

Even if the stardust had been sprinkled sparingly over his artisanal wardrobe, can anyone honestly say that Kenny has squeezed out every last bit of potential?

Any cold, honest examination of his Lansdowne Road residence cannot simply ignore the grim catalog of disappointments and lack of rebellions of even mild impudence.

Ireland’s election-defining capitulation to fourth-place Greece is hardly an outlier.

After Kenny’s fall from grace in the 2022 World Cup, Dublin’s goals against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan brought just one point out of six. These were non-negotiable games that absolutely had to be won.

At times it feels as if the focus on being co-tenants in a group of death with France and the Dutch is a deliberate excuse to obscure the fact that the 51-year-old has suffered his worst failures against toothless minnows. Under Kenny, Ireland repeatedly fail to beat inferior opponents.

No previous manager – neither Brian Kerr, who had an infinitely higher win rate, nor the cruelly ridiculed Steve Staunton – was viewed as benevolent.

Martin O’Neill qualified for Euro 2016, scoring landmark victories over Germany at those finals in Dublin and Italy, and yet received harsher reviews than the current incumbent.

Much of the soft-touch analysis was based on the poverty of options available to Kenny and the series of cruel twists of fate that fate randomly dealt him.

But even denying the exciting potential of Evan Ferguson and leaving out grizzled veterans Séamus Coleman and Matt Doherty, seven of Ireland’s Paris starting XI had Premier League experience.

Of course, if it was absurd to expect them to compete with the gorgeous, highly decorated French, it can also be annoying to constantly exaggerate the poor mouth.

No team that can draw on the experience, know-how and competitive spirit of John Egan, Shane Duffy, Alan Browne and James McClean, the elegant class of Nathan Collins and the willing athleticism of Adam Idah and the fearlessness of Chiedozie Ogbene, should be patronized as barren hopeless people.

Finland, which is two places behind Ireland in the FIFA rankings and has a similar profile, is currently top of its qualifying group, which also includes Denmark.

Kenny gave his best to a difficult task. He has invested boundless energy in his ambitious vision of bringing a new, elegant Republic of Ireland to full fruition.

But even his fiercest admirers understand that a barren garden desperately needs the fertilizer of hope that only a large scalp can provide.

The Dutch are in Dublin and deep down the manager will now be just a moment of alchemy from a modern-day McAteer delivering an unforgettable 2001 Aviva sequel to contradict the notion that the bold but fractured Kenny era is at their When you reach the end, it’s the end of the line. Roy Curtis: The Stephen Kenny era is about to disappear below the waterline

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