Stephen Kenny: Coronavirus pandemic is bigger than this sport

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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.

Aaron Connolly returns to the Republic of Ireland squad against Finland
Aaron Connolly returns to the Republic of Ireland squad against Finland (Simon Cooper/PA)

“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.”

Alan Browne missed the game against Wales because of Covid-19 protocols
Alan Browne missed the game against Wales because of Covid-19 protocols (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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.

Ipswich Town v West Ham United – Pre-season Friendly – Portman Road
Darren Randolph believes the Finland game presents some players with a chance to make their mark (Joe Giddens/PA)

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.”

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