Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO File photo of Stephen Kenny.
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Kenny doing best to look ahead as injury and Covid strikes squad again
Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson are out of Ireland’s forthcoming games, including tomorrow’s friendly with England.

STEPHEN KENNY’S MISFORTUNE abides. Aaron Connolly has strained a hamstring and is out of this week’s triple-header of games, while Callum Robinson has been withdrawn after a positive Covid test.

That the players gathered in London and haven’t had to board a flight means, happily, Robinson has no close contacts. 

“The frustrating part of Aaron’s injury is he will only be ruled out for 10 days”, said Kenny ahead of tomorrow’s friendly with England. 

“It just happens we have three games in that period. It’s a minor, grade one hamstring strain. It was just a deceleration in a training game and it was very unfortunate for Aaron. That’s the way it goes.” 

Robinson, meanwhile, is asymptomatic and feeling fine, but is nonetheless out of this camp having been pulled from the squad last month as a close contact of another Covid-positive player. 

“It’s cost him five starts for Ireland, between this camp and the last one”, said Kenny. “And he’s an important player for us. He was really looking forward to this run of games. While he was disappointed after the last camp, he showed great dignity. He came in this time hugely determined to do well, I spoke to him a couple of times and he was really driven to do well.”

Even Kenny’s standby options are hurt: a call to Southampton was met with the news that Shane Long had taken a knock in training and would be unavailable. Sean Maguire and Ryan Manning have been called up in their stead, the latter capable of also covering for left-back Enda Stevens, also unavailable through injury. Harry Arter, meanwhile, has sat out training with a calf issue.

aaron-connolly-dejected-after-the-game Tomi Hänninen / INPHO Aaron Connolly, pictured after Ireland's defeat in Finland last month. Tomi Hänninen / INPHO / INPHO

Kenny ended the last camp missing half the squad he called up less than a fortnight earlier; he’s already lost three of the 25 players he called up for tomorrow’s friendly with England. 

“No, absolutely not. This is the way of the world at the moment”, said Kenny when asked if he was cursing his luck. “People are taking about a vaccine being imminent, being 90% safe, there have been all those sort of headlines in recent days, so hopefully this situation is temporary throughout the world.” 

He must hope, too, that he can manufacture a solution to his team’s goalscoring problem.

Ireland have scored all of a single goal in five games under Kenny, a Shane Duffy header away to Bulgaria. 

The silver lining of Connolly and Robinson’s absence, he says, is the opportunity afforded to Adam Idah, Ronan Curtis, and James Collins. 

“The two players ruled out today would feature prominently in our picture for the World Cup qualifiers, without a doubt” said Kenny. “People like Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi – if they get regular games – they are certainly players who could come into the picture. 

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“We have a core group of players with international experience here so it will be interesting to see how we go over the three games. One of the things about having the players ruled out in the manner that they were, it opens an opportunity for other players. It’s interesting to see what that brings.”

Ireland face their closing Nations League group games with Wales and then Bulgaria after tomorrow’s friendly with England, in which they will bid to gather more points than Bulgaria in order to avoid relegation. 

Prior to that, however, is a chance to win at – an albeit empty – Wembley for the first time in Irish football history. 

“We have won twice against England, once in Stuttgart and once at Goodison Park, 70-odd years ago, so it has been a long time. England are in good form and we have played well at times, against Slovakia particularly, but we haven’t been scoring goals of course.

“So we are looking forward to going there and we want to perform well. The players are very committed.”

Tomorrow’s game at Wembley kicks off at 8pm, and is live on RTE Two.


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