Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has admitted the coronavirus pandemic is bigger than sport as he attempts to knit together a team from his ravaged squad.
Ireland face Finland in the Nations League on Wednesday evening three days after drawing 0-0 with Wales in the same competition without 13 players through a combination of Covid-19 protocols and injuries.
Kenny has been boosted ahead of the game by the return of strikers Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah, who were ruled out of last Thursday’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final defeat in Slovakia by what proved to be a false positive test on a member of the non-football staff, and paid tribute to the men who had battled on in adversity.
He said: “Listen, there are people experiencing far worse than we are at the moment. This coronavirus has killed thousands of people throughout Europe and bigger numbers throughout the world, so it’s been bigger than sport.
“For us, yes, it did have an impact. For example, we’ve had eight players missing over the last week because of contact tracing, so that has been significant.
“We had eight players through contact tracing missing against Wales the other day, and we hadn’t got David McGoldrick and James McCarthy, who were injured and we already had Seamus Coleman, Harry Arter and Darragh Lenihan out of the original squad, so we had 13 players unavailable for the game against Wales.
“Considering that, the players did remarkably well. Considering 13 players were unavailable, I think they did really well and were are unfortunate not to win, really.”
Kenny’s preparations for the Finland game have been overshadowed by coronavirus with an unnamed player testing positive, negative, then positive once again days after John Egan, Callum Robinson, Callum O’Dowda and Alan Browne were ruled out of the Wales game as close contacts of another unidentified infected player.
Coming after Connolly and Ida had been forced to sit out the penalty shoot-out defeat in Bratislava because of their proximity on the flight over to the staff member who initially tested positive, the manager, who revealed travel arrangements had been altered as a result of recent experiences, could be forgiven for doubting the system.
Asked if he had faith in the testing process, Kenny replied: “It’s hard to believe that we lost two players for the play-off at such a late stage because of a false positive connected to contact tracing.
“If it was a Dutch player, they wouldn’t have a problem because their rules are 1.5m; if it was in England, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Our rules, the HSE rules, are much more stringent than anywhere else in Europe, I think.
“In our country, we have to abide by the law and that’s what the medical department did.”
Kenny is yet to taste victory in four games as Ireland boss and his selection problems have not increased hopes of gaining revenge for the 1-0 defeat his side suffered at the hands of the Finns in Dublin last month.
However, keeper Darren Randolph said: “It will be a chance for the young players coming through to show what they can do and prove to everybody why they were picked and why they belong here.
“It can be the start of their international journey, which can be a very good one.
“Despite the loss on penalties and the last game, we’ve performed well. We’ve had chances, we’re not coming in off the back of getting hammered in two games and losing both of them.
“We’ve actually played some good football and had some great chances, so morale is high.”