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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 27 February 2021

Kenny and FAI to review flight plans ahead of Helsinki trip

The Irish boss lost five players over a single Covid positive test last night, with four players identified as close contacts because of seating on the plane.

Stephen Kenny.
Stephen Kenny.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL AT a time of Covid-19 is a high-wire act and Ireland wobbled today, with one positive case forcing five players from the squad, four of whom were deemed close contacts as they were seated close to the Covid-positive player on the flight home from Bratislava. 

Kenny confirmed the test results came back at around midnight last night, and was this morning forced into making wholesale changes to his starting team for the goalless Nations League draw with Wales. 

“Losing a lot of players today on the day of the game and the team changing so much was a lot for the players to take in, really, so they showed what they’re made of and their character by going out and putting in a good performance”, said Kenny after the game.

“Credit to the players for the way they responded.

“No doubt, it has been difficult, but it all pales into insignificance [when compared to] the players themselves, really. For one of the players to get news like that and the other players to be in close contact – they all feel perfectly healthy, they all feel they could have played today – and the implications of that for them, that can be difficult for them to deal with.

“It was close to midnight when we found out last night, so we had to change a lot of stuff today. It was an early match, a 2pm match, so we were leaving the hotel early enough, so it all had to be sorted out before breakfast. 

“The players’ attitude was just brilliant. They’re a really good group and they showed their professionalism by performing to the level that they did.

“Everyone who played today acquitted themselves very well. Overall I think we could have won the game, it was an evenly-balanced game. There weren’t many chances in the game I don’t remember Darren having to do too much in terms of making saves. I think we had the better chances and considering the 120 minutes, the flights and everything else that went on, it’s a testament to the players.”

The loss of the five players – along with Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah earlier in the week – meant Kenny could only name an 18-man squad for today’s game. Wales, by contrast, had 23 in theirs. 

Further to that, Kevin Long left midway through the first half with an eye injury while James McClean will be suspended for Wednesday’s game with Finland having been sent off in the closing stages of today’s game. 

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Kenny will have to call up a few players to fill the absentee list, with call-ups from the U21 squad – currently in Pisa preparing for Tuesday’s qualifier with Italy – likely. 

Meanwhile, he confirmed he and the FAI are meeting this evening to review their flight plans to Finland. Kenny did not say whether the FAI would bring fewer people on the trip to Helsinki.

He was unwilling to be drawn into whether he believes the FAI could have done anything differently to avoid today’s four close contacts being identified as such.

“I’m sure there are lots of things we can learn, it’s new territory for everyone. It’s never existed before, it’s a new disease, and we are all learning.”

Speaking ahead of the game on Off the Ball, Interim CEO Gary Owens said it was not possible for the FAI to ensure two-metre physical distancing on flights, as it would require the hiring of four separate planes, something currently beyond the cash-strapped FAI. 

The FAI are also exploring the possibility of getting Idah and Connolly back into the squad. Earlier today it emerged they had been forced into self-isolation as close contacts of an ultimately false positive result, taken by an FAI staff member in Bratislava. 

Kenny was also asked as to whether he sees next month’s international window going ahead, as cases rise among football squads and societies across Europe. 

“I think it’s an interesting question,” he said.

“I’m sure everything will be reviewed. I’ll have to think about the answer, I would have to think about it. Ideally, you want life not to be interrupted. Sport is very important, football is the most participated sport in the country and the Irish national team is a very important part of Irish sporting life. We don’t want that to be diminished or not to happen but there are serious challenges and a lot of anxiety with a lot of the clubs and I’m sure that’s something for everyone to consider.”

- Originally published at 19.26 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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