From Fermanagh to Premier League management via Old Trafford

Kieran McKenna’s remarkable achievement of leading Ipswich to back-to-back promotions will surprise many, but Jose Mourinho won’t be one of them.

Mourinho, considered one of the best managers of all time, gave McKenna his first big break when he promoted him to United’s first-team coaching staff in 2016.

The Fermanagh man has not looked back since and the 37-year-old will become a Premier League manager next season.

McKenna is a Northern Ireland U21 international and is considered a promising player at Tottenham Hotspur’s youth academy. However, chronic hip problems forced McKenna to end his career at the age of 22.

He then decided to pursue a career in coaching and began gaining qualifications.

In 2015, McKenna became the head coach of Tottenham Hotspur’s U15 team. The following year, Manchester United signed him and appointed him as the head coach of the club’s U18 team.

McKenna impressed so much at Old Trafford that he was promoted to Mourinho’s coaching staff alongside Michael Carrick in the summer of 2016.

McKenna continues to serve in his role under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has worked closely with McKenna and Carrick during his time in the United dugout.

Kieran McKenna was with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during his time as Manchester United manager.Photo: Getty Images

He remained on staff under interim manager Ralf Rangnick before leaving Ipswich Town to take up his first managerial role in December 2021.

Ipswich were 12th in the First Division at the time and McKenna’s two and a half seasons in charge transformed their fortunes.

The Tractor Boys won two consecutive promotions and entered the Premier League for the first time since 2002.

His team played an attractive style of attacking football that won them many admirers.

McKenna’s Ipswich side became the highest scoring team in the Championship this season with 92 goals and secured promotion with an impressive 96 points.

When looking back at Ipswich’s coaching journey after promotion, McKenna said: “I left when I was 16 to realize a dream, but had to turn to this dream at the age of 22.”

Kieran McKenna leads Ipswich to back-to-back promotions.Photo: Alex Pantlin/Getty Images

“I have worked, sacrificed and learned for 15 years since then. It has been an incredible journey and I am proud of what I have achieved. At the age of 32 I was coaching in the Premier League and Champions League. You It will be a huge challenge to try again against the best.

McKenna has been linked with the vacant Republic of Ireland managerial job, but that seems unlikely given his upcoming journey to the Premier League.

Solskjaer called McKenna “the most thorough, analytical, step-by-step, process-driven coach I have ever worked with.”

“I learned from him about defensive formations and how not to concede the ball,” Solskjaer told The Athletic.

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