Fermanagh native Kieran McKenna is still enjoying his biggest role in football.
Manchester United confirmed this morning that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would become the club’s caretaker manager until the end of the season and his backroom team would consist of Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and that man McKenna.
The Northern Irishman had been promoted to his role of first team coach by Jose Mourinho during the summer and the club have moved to keep him in position despite the change at the top.
So who is this guy named alongside three long-standing club heroes in the new coaching ticket?
Who is Kieran McKenna?
Hometown: Co, Fermanagh
Playing career: McKenna played for Ballinamallard United before joining the Tottenham academy as a teenager. He was handed a contract by the north London club in 2002 when he was just 16. He went on to captain the reserves and played for the senior side in friendlies as his career progressed. He was even capped at U21 level by Northern Ireland.
So what went wrong? His promising career was unfortunately brought to an end when he was just 22 due to a chronic hip injury. McKenna went through two operations and two years of rehabilitation before the eventually decided to hang up his boots.
Crushing blow turned opportunity: McKenna didn’t give up on his dream of a career in football and set about completing his coaching badges. He kept up links with his former club, coaching at the Tottenham Academy before being named U18 boss in 2015.
The move to Manchester: After leading his Spurs side to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup just months into his tenure, he was snapped up by United in 2016, taking charge of the club’s U18s to replace Paul McGuinnes. In just his second season in charge, his team were crowned Premier League Northern champions, another addition to his increasingly feathered cap
First team honours: While he never made it to competitive senior football as a player, this season McKenna’s swift rise through the coaching ranks reached Manchester United’s first team. When Rui Faria left Jose Mourinho’s staff, McKenna was promoted to sit alongside the boss and the recently-retired Michael Carrick in the Old Trafford dug-out.
He could have ended up at Liverpool: Yes, he met with Brendan Rodgers back in 2014 when Alex Inglethorpe was promoted from coach to academy director, creating a vacancy. He spent the day at the club’s Melwood training complex but decided to stay at Tottenham.
A former United fan: Like so many in Northern Ireland, he grew up supporting the Red Devils and perhaps that’s why he decided their offer was enough to finally leave Spurs.
What’s been said about him? “He changed everything,” former United teenager Indy Boonen told the Manchester Evening News of McKenna’s arrival at the club’s U18s. “The way we trained was how the opponent played on the Saturday. If you played against West Brom, you trained how they are and focused on their weaknesses.”
The Irish FA’s elite performance director Jim Magilton agrees: “He is a meticulous planner yet every session is spontaneous. Nothing is set in stone. He adjusts the session to how the players are and gets what he wants out of the session. Everything is linked and game related. Nothing is for show – it has to be about the game.”