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Football: Stephen walked into his first job and bawled out chairman..that's moment I knew he'd be top boss; SCOTTISH CUP DUNFERMLINE v CELTIC Saturday, kick-off 3pm Live BBC1.

Byline: By GAVIN BERRY

THE chairman who gave Stephen Kenny his big break as boss knew he meant business when his new employee read him the riot act just minutes into their first meeting.

Kenny might have been a rookie gaffer who had just landed his first job at Longford Town but that didn't stop him laying down the law to chairman Michael Cox - the man who appointed him!

Cox insists he didn't care because he knew that day he'd found the perfect man to lift his club out the doldrums. And he was right.

The year before Kenny took over, Longford had finished bottom of the First Division with only two wins all season but it didn't take long for the Irishman to work his magic.

After showing progress that first season the revolution began in his second campaign with promotion and a Cup Final appearance which also resulted in UEFA Cup qualification despite defeat.

Kenny's managerial career has been on a meteoric rise ever since and hewill lead Dunfermline into a Scottish Cup Final after just five months in Scotland.

Cox will be at Hampden on May 26 looking down at the dug-out with pride.

But as he prepared for his trip to Glasgow he recalled his bizarre first encounter with Kenny.

The then Longford chairman said: "I was on holiday in the summer of 99 when we were looking for a new boss but I got a phone call from a committee member while I was away.

"They said they'd interviewed Stephen Kenny for the post and were impressed with what he had to say so I just told them to offer him the job and he accepted.

"When I returned from my break I went into the Tally-Ho Bar in Longford for a pint and our committee was there with Stephen Kenny.

"I was introduced to him and the first thing he did was ask me to step outside and he said, 'Mick, let's get something straight here. As long as I'm boss of Longford Town we will NEVER have a meeting in a pub again!' I tried to explain that I wasn't there on official business. I didn't even know he was in Longford that day never mind that pub.

"The word from the committee when I was on holiday was that he wouldn't suffer fools gladly but I got put in my place sharply that day which I liked about him."

If Cox hadn't known that Kenny had a ruthless streak then he soon would when one of his first acts was to wipe out the ENTIRE Longford Town squad.

Cox said: "We had three or four names on our list of potential managers but to be honest I was lukewarm on the lot of them.

"They'd been around the scene with umpteen different clubs and wouldn't have brought anything new to the club.

"But Stephen got rid of the WHOLE squad - 20 players - because he said they weren't good enough and he was proved right.

"That was the thing about Stephen which impressed me. I soon discovered he knew more about Longford Town than me.

"The reason for that was he'd watched us for a full season beforehand so he knew exactly what our weaknesses were.

"I found that so thorough and professional. He didn't tell anyone. He just turned up every week and watched us.

"He was going to our games because he wanted to break into management by going in at the bottom and working up.

"We were firmly rooted to the bottom of the First Division with a poor manager and a poor squad.

"Basically I think that was his attraction to Longford Town more than anything else."

Cox also believes that Kenny's attitude was the reason for the stunning turnaround.

"We had a lot of Dublin-based players playing with us that year and he most of them. He had been speaking to them and saw how it was going - that we would be the first club looking for a new manager.

"The players were journeymen who were only there for the ride and the money and he saw right through them and replaced them with hungry youngsters.

"I had seen previous managers who were full of hot air when they were interviewed but this guy knew exactly where he was going.

"He wanted to do it his way and make sure the set-up was proper and run correctly.

"If anyone wasn't interested in pulling their weight then he just didn't want them. And he made that clear to everyone."

And Cox insists Kenny's appointment was the best decision he's ever made.

He said: "People thought we were taking a big gamble but what risk were we taking? We were in the First Division for the previous two or three years and languishing there.

"I didn't appoint Stephen's predecessor Michael O'Connor but my mistake was not getting rid of him sooner.

"There were times we had to list the kit man as a sub because so few players turned up!

"But getting Stephen Kenny in was and still is the best decision ever made as far as Longford Town are concerned.

"And yet we must have paid him no more than pounds 500 a week, not much in football terms."

All good things have to come to an end and Cox was gutted when Kenny left for bigger and better things at Bohemians but they've remained close friends.

Michael said: "It was sad when he went to Bohs but I understood why he did. It was a chance to join a full-time set-up. He was trying to better himself and you couldn't hold him back.

"But I wish he was still with Longford Town. I had nothing but the height of respect for him.

"We've always kept in touch and I'm going over to the Scottish Cup Final to lend some support.

"Stephen has thanked me umpteen times for giving him a chance but he was never big headed, always down to earth with a professional approach and that's still the case today."

And while Kenny's praises may be sung by his old chairman he's hoping to break the heart of a former rival on Saturday.

John Noonan was boss of junior side Newtown Rangers when Kenny took charge of neighbours Tallaght Town.

It was the derby encounter in Tallaght with both sides enjoying numerous red-hot battles. But Celtic die-hard Noonan admits it will be strange to find himself looking on from the Hoops end at Hampden to see his old managerial foe in the dugout.

John, 54, said: "Our matches at junior level were top derbies.

"Our teams had many battles in those clashes and there was a lot of rivalry there.

"I have to say that I didn't come out on top often - he always had better players!

"It's fascinating that the man I once pitted my wits against as a manager will lead a side out against the team I support.

"But the fact I'll be in the stand and he'll be in the dug out says enough about who was better equipped for management.

"Stephen disappointed me enough as a rival boss but I hope he won't do it again on Saturday!

"If there's one man who can upset the odds then it's Stephen

CAPTION(S):

Applause all round: Kenny's rise in football has been meteoric; We're having a bawl: Michael Cox and Stephen Kenny are all smiles now but the Dunfermline gaffer stamped his authority by letting rip at Cox the first time they met
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:May 20, 2007
Words:1260
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