Northern Ireland managers making incredible impact on British game while those in south 'have left barely a footprint'

It was a remarkable weekend for managers from Northern Ireland operating across the water with one boss landing the biggest prize of his career to date and another taking a step towards his latest league title.

Enniskillen man Kieran McKenna secured back to back promotions with Ipswich Town while Brendan Rodgers' Celtic side secured a big win over Hearts ahead of their defining clash with Rangers next weekend to decide the Scottish Premiership title race.

At just 37, McKenna will be a Premier League manager next season, having taken Ipswich Town from League One to the top flight in successive seasons.

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If Celtic get over the line in Scotland, it will be the eighth trophy won by Rodgers in his two terms in charge.

Legendary Irish football pundit Eamon Dunphy believes the FAI should be knocking on McKenna's door with something magical in the managerial waters in Northern Ireland.

"The success of McKenna and Rodgers is yet another reminder that managers from the six counties have thrived across the water, in stark comparison to those on this side of the border," said Dunphy.

"Plenty of us now think John O’Shea should be appointed Ireland boss. He has the intelligence, knowledge and character to do well in the job. But it is a fact that O’Shea has never been a manager. All his jobs in coaching so far have been in assistant roles.

"In the north, though, there always seems to be candidates — or targets — for their manager’s job that have impressive CVs.

A picture of Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna
Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna -Credit:Nigel French/PA Wire

"Gavin Gunning has been in an interim role at Swindon Town in League Two but, with the season drawing to a close, the only full time manager from the 26 counties across the 92 clubs in the four divisions of English football is Graham Coughlan. The Dubliner is in charge of Newport County. They finished 18th out of the 24 teams in League Two.

"Rodgers is the first manager from the island of Ireland to win one of the three major trophies in English football since Martin O’Neill took Leicester to the League Cup in 2001.

"That was O’Neill’s second time to win that competition with the Foxes, having also triumphed in 1999. Before Rodgers, the last — and only — Irish FA Cup winning boss was Terry Neill with Arsenal in 1979.

"And you have to go way back to 1913 and Sunderland’s Bob Kyle for the only manager from Ireland to win the league. That’s it for the Irish roll of honour over a period of 150 years. Four managers, five trophies.

"What do Rodgers, O’Neill, Neill and Kyle have in common? They’re all from north of the border.

"All through the history of the game in England, top class Irish footballers have been to the fore. So it is remarkable they have left barely a footprint as managers."

The FAI's search for an Ireland manager has lurched from one farce to another, with an appointment not expected now until the autumn. At one stage McKenna featured in the betting to replace Stephen Kenny and Dunphy believes it's not to late to go cap in hand to the Fermanagh man.

"Lee Carsley was rightly seen as the main target when Stephen Kenny was removed from his post by the FAI. McKenna should have been high up on the list too," said Dunphy.

Lee Carsley
Lee Carsley -Credit:Naomi Baker/Getty Images

"My understanding is that the FAI never talked to him, or many any kind of approach at all. This, to me, is a dereliction of duty.

"It has been reported that Ipswich Town have a hefty release clause with McKenna. So what? He is a real talent and the FAI could surely find a sponsor to cough up.

"McKenna has a growing reputation and the carrot of the Premier League is a massive one. He got Ipswich promoted from League One with a squad that cost just €11.5m. Last summer, McKenna then signed seven players on free transfers.

"So he has done a miraculous job with Ipswich on a shoestring. He has made the whole far greater than the sum of the parts. That’s exactly what we want in a manager. The FAI should have been banging down his door to talk to him.

"And what’s stopping them doing so now? Sure, he’s going to the Premier League but that’s an arena that can destroy growing reputations. Look at Sheffield United. Last season, they were promoted comfortably under Paul Heckingbottom.

"They finished 11 points clear of Luton Town in third spot. Heckinbottom went into the Premier League where the air is much thinner and was sacked after just four months of this campaign.

Ipswich are likely to go straight back down next season and, looking at the history of promoted teams, McKenna might well end up getting sacked along the way.

"So the FAI should be trying to sell him a different path. Sell him the challenge of improving a talented squad in international football with the knowledge that he is young enough to go back to the club game in a few years’ time.

"Instead, we’re hearing dreary stories of the FAI’s ongoing pursuit of Willy Sagnol, a decent player who is on the journeyman circuit in international football.

"McKenna is clearly talented and ambitious. If only the FAI were. If only they had the cop on to chase a man who should be an obvious target."

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