"Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row," once chirped the 1977 Australian Open champion after ending a run of 16 straight defeats to rival Jimmy Connors.

On the night of his 17th game in charge, Stephen Kenny might have paraphrased the Lithuanian Lion to coincide with his first competitive victory since taking over from Mick McCarthy.

There has not been much time for humour over the past 13 months, especially of the self-deprecating variety, however, you would not begrudge the manager for focusing on the positives following his side's well-earned 3-0 victory in Baku.

Two first-half Callum Robinson goals handed Ireland a cushion going into the second half, and while the home side had a brief spell where they looked to get back into the game, Chiedozie Ogbene’s late header sealed the victory.

A game that Ireland had to win, admitted the manager after the game, while quick to emphasise that the result made it just one defeat in seven, and that coming away to Portugal from a 97th-minute world-class Ronaldo header.

It sounds a lot better than one win in 13 competitive games, but there is a logic to the manager focusing on that seven-game streak, which has seen the team dramatically improve since those back-to-back defeats in March.

Many have pointed to that end-of-season training camp, where the squad spent ten days in Spain and secured their first win of the Kenny era – the friendly victory over Andorra – and backed it up with a strong performance in Hungary, where the game finished scoreless.

The September window really alerted the nation as to what Kenny was trying to achieve with a performance in Portugal that, by the manager’s own admission, came a bit sooner than expected.

But it was a real template on how to compete with teams of such standard, built on a rock-solid defence and the emphasis of holding onto possession as much as possible, an energy-saving tactic as much as anything else against a team with such quality.

If Portugal was two steps forward, Azerbaijan at home three days later was at least one step back.

A dreadful result against a bang-average side, yet it was the panicked nature of the second-half performance that was the most disappointing, considering the side had started really positively.

Either way, the result and battling performance against Serbia, thanks in large part to an inspired Gavin Bazunu appearance, meant that the team signed off on a positive note, and with World Cup hopes already gone, the Azerbaijan result could be put down to the process taking shape.

But what that September triple-header did show was that Project Kenny was primed and ready to go, making the visit to Baku so important to reel in some of the doubters who could see no further past the results column.

"Look at the table" was the cry from the doubters, even after the positive showing and result in Azerbaijan, yet with the caveat that the Baku performance – and result, of course – must be applauded.

Kenny now has control of his destiny once again, and would expect nothing more than to be judged on his results from here on in.

A home friendly against Qatar would normally offer a manager a night off and allow him to try different things and test new players, but the spotlight remains on Kenny and he will also be keen to maintain this momentum that has slowly built up over these past seven games.

The FAI could come out and back the manager to take the team on to 2024, yet in reality, it would be disingenuous to publicly support him now, while maintaining radio silence following those exceptional nights against Portugal and Serbia.

November will see an end to this current campaign and determine whether the manager will be around for the barren year of 2022, where the competitive action does not begin until June in the guise of the dreaded UEFA Nations League.

A perfect year for a transition of power, might be the argument for those still angling for a new manager to take charge of the national team.

But Kenny will not go down without a fight and he let out a rallying cry after the Baku victory, targeting that home clash with Portugal at the Aviva Stadium, where the manager wants a full house of 50,000 supporting his new-look Ireland side.

Ireland will be playing for the future of the manager that night and they will need another exceptional performance to stop the group favourites, who will be pushing for that automatic qualifying place at next year’s World Cup.

Most of the recent Ireland managers have had their great nights, from Martin O’Neill’s toppling of world champions Germany, right back to the many memorable occasions during Jack Charlton’s tenure.

Kenny may have to wait a bit longer to get that high-profile victory that he so craves, but the real question remains as to whether he is given the time to achieve it.

Follow Republic of Ireland v Qatar via our liveblog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app, watch on RTÉ 2 and the RTÉ Player or listen to commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra.

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