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'The team that wasn't available tonight would be stronger than the team that was' - Kenny laments luck

The Irish boss was without 14 players as his side underwhelmed in a 0-0 draw with Bulgaria.

Stephen Kenny after the game.
Stephen Kenny after the game.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY LAMENTED his squad’s absentees as a wretched Nations League campaign drew to an end. Ireland avoided relegation by drawing 0-0 with Bulgaria in Dublin, but they drew three and lost three of their six games, scoring just a single goal across them all. 

Kenny is still waiting for his first win as senior boss, but has had to contend a near-farcical run of bad luck. A combination of Covid, injury and personal circumstance left him without 14 players for tonight’s game, compounding a similar level of absenteeism that blighted last month’s camp.

“It’s been very difficult, but you just have to manage it”, said Kenny after the game. “The team that wasn’t available tonight would be stronger than the team that was, and that’s not being disparaging. We’d just so many frontline players not available tonight. 

“But having said that, now some players have really put themselves in contention to challenge for places and that’s what we needed – and we will need that because we could have injuries in March as well. You don’t know how things will go.

“We need a greater pool to pick from and we’re developing that now, and that’s important.

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t win the game overall. We know we didn’t play well in the first half but we played really well in the second half for periods.

“The fact that the players have had to endure what they’ve had to endure over the last couple of months, having to deal with Covid-related nearly every day in the camp, it’s very unsettling for players, very unsettling for them in their lives and all their connected families.

“It’s been a very, very difficult period over the last two windows with all of that. We lost some players with bereavement in this camp – James McCarthy’s father unfortunately passed away – we lost players through injury.

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“There were a lot of issues and in the last two camps, we were probably missing players in double figures.

“But regardless, all of the players showed a brilliant mentality, gave everything of themselves took everything in their stride and just applied themselves correctly, so I applaud them for that and for their determination even though we didn’t win the game.

“It was very important that we weren’t relegated, that was very important. It’s not something to celebrate, not particularly.

“The big play-off game, a tough draw away to Slovakia, was the big game for us. We performed brilliantly in the game were beaten on penalties. We’ve used the Nations League to blood a lot of players, some by design and some because we’ve had an inordinate players ruled out for a variety of reasons.

“That will stand us well in the future, for sure, and it gives us more options.” 

Ireland won’t gather again until next March, when the 2022 World Cup qualifiers begin. Ireland will be third seeds in the draw, which takes place on 7 December. 

Read about their potential opponents here. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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