Irish football expert tells 67 Hail Hail all about Ange's potential next signing at Celtic
Although he’s been linked for a while now, it’s not as if every Celtic fan will know the full story on reportedly imminent January signing Johnny Kenny, of Sligo Rovers.
Yesterday, the Irish Independent reported that Kenny had made his mind up, despite having been treated to hospitality by Hibernian in December. The 18-year-old, according to the report, will join for €150,000 plus potential add-ons.
But who is Johnny Kenny? He seems to have come out of nowhere to become of the League of Ireland’s star players. Now, it seems, he’s set to be Celtic bound.
Here’s an interview with Andrew, explaining how 2021 has been for the Irish youngster.
Some quotes are edited for length.
Andrew Dempsey on Sligo Rovers star and potential Celtic signing Johnny Kenny
What kind of player is Johnny Kenny and how was his 2021 season with Sligo Rovers?
“He’s a goalscorer, mainly. That’s the biggest thing. In this league we have a big problem with getting goal scorers, a lot of the time the goal scorers we do get end up going to bigger clubs away from home. Johnny Kenny is one that looks like he’s going to be going away from home [too].
“Looking at his stats, he got 11 goals in 32 games, he’s had a great season. He scored in Europe against Stjarnen in the Conference League. Granted, Sligo didn’t get through but he’s come out of nowhere really. At the start of the season he signed his first professional contract, so it’s been a whirlwind 12 months for him.”
Johnny Kenny, at 18, is a new name to a lot of us although there’s been plenty of recent chat; were there other clubs near the size of Celtic interested in him?
“Even before he signed the three-year contract extension with Sligo, Celtic were mentioned. Maybe not as much as they are now. The problem there is that there’s a €150,000 release clause, so essentially if a bigger club, slash foreign club comes in for him, they only have to pay [that]. He’s obviously taken to senior football quite well, so why not take a punt? It’s a bit of a no-brainer just looking at him, seeing what he can do and what he’s probably going to do in the future.
“It seems an absolute bargain.”
How would Johnny Kenny fit into a high-pressing, defending from the front kind of side like Celtic?
“At Sligo, they play an attractive brand of football. They do, granted they go direct when they have to, play decent football. Their manager Liam Buckley would be considered one of the more expansive managers in the league. That’s obviously helped [Kenny], he’s not afraid to give youth their chance, he’s not afraid to throw people in, obviously Johnny Kenny is one of them.
“I wouldn’t associate Sligo with being a massively high-pressing side. But [Kenny] is young, he’s got the legs on him. Do I see him going straight into Celtic’s starting XI? Probably not. He probably would be better off staying at home for one or two more years. But you just can’t say no to Celtic, can you?”
Can Johnny Kenny make a Celtic impact right away?
He’s being talked about as a definite one for the future; do you think Kenny can surprise a few and break into the first-team sooner rather than later?
“He’s obviously shown he can do it quite quickly. Around the league there’s a lot of players going from here to Scotland. Ross Tierney’s gone from Bohemians, he’s an Ireland U21, gone to Motherwell. I can see him going into the first team there straight away. Granted, Celtic is a different level to Motherwell, altogether.
“It probably will take him a little bit of time, as we saw with Liam Scales. Obviously [Scales] did admit that it was a bit of a step up, but he got used to the step up.
“I don’t know how I feel about him going to a B Team, either. The likes of Luca Connell, he went into a B Team and it obviously isn’t going too well for him. I hope [Kenny] doesn’t end up getting swallowed in U23 football, Reserves football, because that’s not what he needs at this age, I don’t think.
“He comes from really good footballing stock. His father would’ve played for Sligo Rovers, back in the late 80s, 90s. He won an FAI Cup with Sligo in ’94. That’s one thing.
“Looking at his goals this season, he’s really aware of chances. When they played Bohemians this year… each goal was basically his own doing. Being aware, being in the right place at the right time. He’s really smart, he’s not your typical 18-year-old striker that just lashes onto long balls and runs in, a Tony Watt kind of thing.
“He’s different, he’s got that mentality. I remember speaking to Liam Buckley, his manager, earlier this year. I briefly asked him about Johnny Kenny, and every time he speaks about [him] he says “he’s going to have a great career in this league, and he’ll probably go further.” And look, he’s probably going to further, now.
“He’s come so far in such a short space of time, you’d kind of be fearful of how good he can gets if he keeps on the current path he is. He can’t really turn down a move to Celtic – a move to Hibs might make more sense in terms of maybe game-time, all that kind of stuff. But you can’t say no to Celtic, for so many Irish people it’s difficult to say now.”
Our take: Johnny Kenny seems a prospect with a decent shot at Celtic involvement
Given how little Ange Postecoglou trusts Albian Ajeti, even when he’s fit, and with Leigh Griffiths away, it’s not impossible to imagine Johnny Kenny featuring in Celtic match-day squads, should this deal get over the line.
Granted, he’d have quite a shift on to feature. With J League and Eredivisie top-scorers barring the path, it’ll take a real effort from Kenny. But to sign a player who’s just scored 11 top flight goals in his first season, then chuck him in the B Team? It’d be an interesting choice, certainly.
What’s sure is that he’s a player who seems really well liked, and seems to have an excellent attitude. His goals speak for themselves, and of course, the ambition of going to Celtic – if it goes through as reported – is self-explanatory.
It’s an interesting one, at the very least.