Stephen Kenny is confident the foundation is in place for a brighter future for the Republic of Ireland despite seeing their disappointing Euro 2024 campaign fizzle out in the Netherlands.
Ireland knew before kick-off at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam that they would not be going to next summer’s finals after their feint hopes of snatching a play-off spot had finally been extinguished.
They had hoped to sign off with a famous win over Ronald Koeman’s men, but ultimately slipped to a 1-0 defeat which could and perhaps should have been significantly more substantial.
However asked if he remains convinced there is a firm base in place after three and a half years at the helm which have seen a major overhaul of the squad, a defiant Kenny said: “Yes, without doubt there is.
“What was the alternative? If you can tell me… Over the years, a lot of our players have moved down the divisions, so absolutely. These are the best players that Ireland have now.
“They’ve gone up against a world-class team there, one of the best teams in Europe. It’s a tough game when you come to Holland, for sure, there’s no doubt about that.
“The reason no Irish team in its history has beaten a team of Holland’s calibre away from home – and there’s been better teams than us, for sure, a lot of great teams – is because it’s really difficult, really, really difficult to beat a tier one nation like that away from home in a qualifier.”
The contest was settled by Wout Weghorst’s 12th-minute strike after he turned Nathan Collins on halfway before surging upfield to blast a shot past goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.
Kenny said: “Ryan Manning and Nathan collided and it opened up for Weghorst to go and score. It was a brilliant finish and you would not expect him to score from that angle, but it was a phenomenal finish and we got punished.”
The Hoffenheim frontman’s contribution – he is on loan at the Bundesliga club from Burnley – should have been just a start, and the Dutch were grateful they were not made to pay for their profligacy as chances came and went without the scoreline changing.
That said, Ireland produced little of note in reply barring substitute Adam Idah’s 59th-minute effort, which was ruled out for offside to the great relief of keeper Bart Verbruggen, who had allowed the Norwich striker’s shot to squirm between his legs.
Kenny’s men finished fourth in Group B with all six of their points coming from victories over Gibraltar, who were trounced 14-0 by France, and most commentators do not expect him to survive a review later this month with his current contract due to expire after Tuesday’s friendly against New Zealand.
Asked if he has been able to enjoy his time at the helm, he said: “It’s an absolute privilege to manage Ireland, I’ve always said that and I always would feel that. Yes, it’s been a roller-coaster of emotions, of course, but it’s all been an honour to manage Ireland.”
Opposite number Ronald Koeman was measured after securing the win which ensured the Dutch will be at the finals in Germany.
He said: “Of course we are happy to have the qualification for the Euros. We did our job. We won twice against Ireland, we won twice against Greece, we lost twice against France – that made the away game against Ireland more difficult.
“There was more pressure even against Greece away, but we did the job that we had to do, that everybody was expecting, but you have to do it.”