“Tallaght was a great learning experience for me” – Kenny

By Stephen Leonard

NEWLY-appointed Republic of Ireland Senior team manager, Stephen Kenny and new Irish Under 21 boss Jim Crawford spoke to The Echo Sports Editor, Stephen Leonard about how their early days in Tallaght have had a significant impact on their careers.

Kenny, the League of Ireland’s most successful manager, is now hoping to steer Irish senior international soccer to new heights, having, earlier this month, taken the reins from Mick McCarthy with Crawford subsequently stepping into his previous role as Ireland Under 21 Head Coach.

Enjoying a wealth of success with a number of League of Ireland clubs, including  Bohemians, Derry City and most recently Dundalk and having led Dunfermline to the Scottish Cup Final in 2007, Kenny has never shied away from tough challenges and that was evident from early on in his career when he passed up other opportunities to take over at Tallaght Town.

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Stephen Kenny’s time at Tallaght Town provided valuable experience for his managerial career which has taken him all the way to the Ireland Senior International post

“I'd left Home Farm as a player when I'd been asked to stay on with the first team and I also had an offer to sign for Kilkenny City at that stage, but at 22, I left that to go into Tallaght Town and try and bring it to the League of Ireland because I was hugely motivated by that” insisted Kenny.

“This was what I wanted to do. It was a strange decision at the time.

“I had played with Tallaght United as a schoolboy player, literally before it became Tallaght Town.

“At that stage the population was in six figures and yet no League of Ireland team. I just knew football was the most important sport in Tallaght, the most played, and there was a lot of talent.

“So I ended up with Tallaght Town and we got three promotions. We went into Senior 1B and got to the Senior Division. So 1B, 1A and Division One, we got right up to the top league.

“Then Shamrock Rovers came into Tallaght and sort of took over the club.

“That was fine, but I wasn't really part of the plans there so I went one year with St Patrick's Athletic as Under 21 manager, but, yeah, Tallaght Town was hugely important to me.

“When we'd no team there, I invited probably nine or ten of the best players in the area to my house and had an open meeting.

“Some were playing with Francis, some with Mount Tallant, others with Terenure CYM, some with Bluebell and clubs all over the place.

“I wanted to see if we could get players to sign for Tallaght. Some of them did, some of them didn't. In my house we had a big open meeting to see what did they think.

“So I played, took all the training and Paddy [Dempsey] was the manager, and I managed the Saturday team as well.

“So I was managing the Saturday team, playing in the Sunday and doing all the coaching. The whole two teams trained together so I was coaching everyone.

“It was proving a lot, so then Christy Campbell came in to help with the training, because I was trying to play as well. And there was Paddy Dempsey there, a good man with a strong personality and good football ideals.

“Tallaght was a great learning experience for me, because I was playing and there were different experiences.

“You learn from your mistakes and I'm sure I made plenty of them, but we won three promotions and the Saturday team won the league as well.

“I'm very proud to be from Tallaght. My family are all still there. My sister's in Coventry the last few years, but my two brothers and mam are still there.

“Obviously I've lived in other parts. I've lived in the north west and I've lived in Scotland.

“I'm in Louth at the moment, from my time managing Dundalk. My father died just a few short years ago now and my mother's still in Tallaght and my two brothers still live in Tallaght, so I've still got great connections there” he said.

American-born Jim Crawford’s path took him on a different route with the former Rangers schoolboy player, spending more than three years with Bohemians before making the move to Newcastle.

Returning home in 2000, the former PFAI Young Player of the Year joined Shelbourne whom he

helped to four League of Ireland titles in his eight years there before finishing his playing career at Sporting Fingal.

He was appointed interim manager of Shamrock Rovers following Pat Scully’s departure, having begun working with the FAI as a development officer. Crawford was later appointed manager of the Ireland Under 18 team after which he linked up with Kenny as assistant coach of the Under 21 international outfit.

Now taking charge of the Under 21s as they gear up for the business end of a UEFA European Championship qualification campaign, Crawford spoke about growing to love the game when he moved to Tallaght.

“I was born in the States and that was why I started football late” explained Crawford. “I would have played a lot of baseball when I was a kid and then we emigrated from there back home because my Mam and Dad are from Dublin.

“I would have been eight or nine when we moved back. I was a good 12 years in Jobstown.

“There wasn't much to do then only play football. One thing I do remember, and I'll never forget, was everybody played football, and the area I lived in in Kiltalown, we'd have a team and we'd play a team from Cloonmore, we'd play a team from Bawnlea. So we used to have those sort of estate leagues.

“There were always people who wanted to play, whether it was mini leagues, games of World Cup. For me, when I look back on it, they were fantastic times. People of all ages using their imagination. It was great.

“Rangers was my first and only schoolboy club. I would have started with them about Under 10 or 11s. I was a late starter, and I stayed with them until about Under 18s.

“I felt a sense of belonging to the club. There were some really good coaches there, I had friends there and I enjoyed my football there.

“It was very unconventional, because we always played in the second tier and the third tier at one stage, so I wasn't one of those players who were playing in the top leagues throughout my schoolboy career. I just felt, because of the enjoyment I got from the club, through good coaching and through good friends that I stayed.

“A happy footballer is a good footballer, so it's about you creating the right environment for players to learn in and to enjoy and develop.

“I see a big rush now with players thinking 'I need to be playing here, I need to be playing there'. If you've got a good coach who's looking after you, he'll point you in the right direction.

“You will meet challenges of playing against better teams, and that's what you want” he said.

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Jim Crawford is set for his latest chall-enge in leading the Ireland Under 21s

Crawford took on many challenges as a player and enjoyed an illustrious career in the League of Ireland before being handed the opportunity to cut his teeth in management with Shamrock Rovers who had just parted ways with manager Pat Scully in 2008.

“Shamrock Rovers gave me an opportunity to go in as a caretaker manager” he recalled.

“It was a real challenge for myself as a head coach, going into a massive club with a lot of good players. Pat Scully had done a fine job with them.

“There are a lot of things that you're not aware of. There are lots of things behind the scenes that you don't see when you're a player.

“Then all of sudden there are so many other things you have to deal with. It's not all about you as a player. There's a squad of 20 odd players, you're dealing with the board, supporters. It was a massive learning curve going to Shamrock Rovers.

“What I did learn, was I went into a club where there was real passion about them. The likes of Jonathan Roche, Noel Byrne, there was Paddy McQuaid there, all passionate about Shamrock Rovers Football Club and wanted it to grow as quickly as possible and, with their drive, it's great to see the club doing so well now.

“I was with the FAI at that stage. That was a real challenge as well.

“I was a development officer for the Tallaght area and it was something I really enjoyed.

“It was a big change to what I was used to, being a professional footballer. You're living on two-year contracts, one-year contracts, but I went in there with Barry Ferguson and Will Clarke initially and I really enjoyed it.

“Having been development officer for the Tallaght area, I've seen at grassroots level how passionate coaches are about football.

“Any coaches education courses that we ran, a lot of Tallaght people were involved because of their openness to learn and develop themselves as coaches” he said.

Both Kenny and Crawford are now poised to undertake the biggest tests of their managerial careers so far, with the two hoping to lead Ireland to European Senior and Under 21 Championship Finals respectively.

Both qualification campaigns have reached the business end with Kenny’s men set to face off against Slovakia in their play-off semi final, while Crawford’s Under 21s will be hoping to hold on to top spot in Group One as they gear up for their three final games against Italy, Iceland and Luxembourg.

The two men are embracing their latest challenges in what could soon prove to be one of the most exciting periods in Irish international soccer.

“I'm just formulating my coaching team and backroom team at the moment” said Kenny.

“Just waiting on the fixture now and play-off to see when it is. The reports are that it could be later in the autumn, maybe October. We want to give ourselves every opportunity to progress.

“With six Nations League games, the Euro play-offs and the World Cup qualifiers, it's a really really special time, a really special year.

“I'm proud and very, very privileged to manage Ireland. I realise that there have only been a handful of men in their lifetime that have had the position, so I'm going to give it everything.

“We're getting ready to prepare for Finland, Wales and Bulgaria in the opening three games [of the UEFA Nations League], home and away. And we're going to play Slovakia and try and get into a final against either Bosnia or Northern Ireland.

“So the Euros in Dublin, if we got through, would be incredible. We've got a real tough ask away to Slovakia. We haven't really won two high-profile away games consecutively in many years as a nation, so we've got to do something extraordinary and we'll definitely endeavour to do that” he stressed.

Crawford, meanwhile, has taken the Under 21 baton from Kenny in the hopes of keeping the team on track for the European Finals.

“I'm excited and looking forward to it. It's a little bit of mixed feelings because of the current situation” he told The Echo.

“Your thoughts are always with those on the front line, so a mixed bag of feelings at the minute, but, like everybody, I'm just itching to get back working and doing what you enjoy, meeting up with the staff and going through our road map going forward for the next couple of years.

“It is an exciting time, I'm looking forward to it. It's the business end [of the campaign]. We've got three unbelievably tough games coming up. It looks like, at the minute, we've got an October window when we play Italy. That will tell a lot, that window, because Italy also play Iceland.

“Going into November then, our very first game is against Iceland, so I can see that as being a possible winner-takes-all, in terms of the play-off place, but if we could go to Italy, beat Italy, have that game against Iceland and have a fantastic winning result there, we're definitely in the driving seat to qualify automatically for the European Finals.

“Just switching on the lights, the Tallaght public become excited because they know there's some sporting event going on.

“They love their football and I've no doubt we'll get a decent crowd. It's our last home game of the group and it's against really difficult opposition in Iceland who've already beaten us away so we definitely need the support to help us.”

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