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Covid issues hit Ireland squad once again as Kenny confirms some players have opted against vaccine

‘In an ideal world we’d prefer to have everyone vaccinated but we have to respect the individual wishes’, said the Ireland boss.

Stephen Kenny speaks to the media.
Stephen Kenny speaks to the media.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

THE SPECTRE OF Covid-19 still looms for Stephen Kenny and the Republic of Ireland, with Callum Robinson and Alan Browne absent from today’s squad for virus-related issues. 

Kenny today named a 25-man squad for the triple-header of World Cup qualifiers against Portugal, Azerbaijan, and Serbia, but Robinson is out having tested positive for the virus yesterday, while Browne is self-isolating as a close contact of a separate case at Preston North End, though is also nursing a glute injury.

Kenny hopes to have them available for the latter pair of games in Dublin, but neither will travel to the Algarve for Wednesday’s daunting clash with Portugal.

Kenny has had several camps disrupted by the virus, with Robinson and Browne often among those affected: both missed two games last October as a close contact, while both tested positive during the international window in November. 

“Callum’s had a terrific start to the season”, said Kenny. “I have been at a couple of his games, I have seen him score in the Hawthorns last week and the opening game of the season against Bournemouth, West Brom have had a flying start, himself and Dara O’Shea. 

“He initially missed part of the camp when he was a close contact and then he got Covid, ahead of the November camp, so to get it twice is incredibly unlucky.”

callum-robinson-dejected Callum Robinson in action for Ireland against Luxembourg last March. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The issue of vaccine uptake among professional footballers has been burbling along in the news for a couple of weeks, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitting some of his Manchester United players are “not sure” about taking the jab. Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, meanwhile, says “a lot” of his players have not taken the vaccine, and Neil Warnock revealed the majority of his Middlesbrough squad had decided not to take it out of “personal choice.”

When asked about the level of uptake among his international squad, Kenny revealed some players are still awaiting a second dose while there are some who have yet to take the vaccine.

“A number of players have had vaccines, some haven’t, some have had one. In England the AstraZenica [vaccine] has a long period between the first and second doses. Some players have been caught after the first one and some players decided not to get it.”It has happened with one player who only had one vaccine [dose], hadn’t had the second and had to isolate. We’d want everyone vaccinated, but players are individuals, they have the right to make their own decisions and you have to respect that.

“In an ideal world we’d prefer to have everyone vaccinated but we have to respect the individual wishes.”

Fresh from his Burnley debut in the Carabao Cup last night, Nathan Collins has been called up to the senior squad, though there is no place for Newcastle defender Ciaran Clark. Though omitted for next month, Kenny says Clark remains in his thoughts. 

“Yeah, very much so. Dara O’Shea has been very consistent. Shane Duffy has come in and done well. John Egan has done well, so it’s just the profile of the other players. I was at the game last night and Nathan Collins was excellent, a really impressive performance. That’s the decision that I’ve made.”

Jason Knight, Chiedozie Ogbene, and Callum O’Dowda all miss out through injury, though there are a number of experienced players omitted for other reasons. Darren Randolph, who until March had started every competitive senior international Ireland had played since October 2015, has been left out in favour of a trio of young goalkeepers in Gavin Bazunu, Caoimhin Kelleher and Mark Travers. 

Kenny said it’s “absolutely not” the case that the door is closed to a future return for Randolph. 

“Darren has been a terrific goalkeeper for Ireland, he had good pre-season then he got Covid, which interrupted his training, he’s back training now but other three goalkeepers have been excellent recently. I am very happy with their form and they stay in the squad.”

celtic-v-heart-of-midlothian-premier-sports-cup-celtic-park James McCarthy, playing for Celtic against Hearts earlier this month. Source: PA

James McCarthy is absent too, in spite of making a first-team debut for Celtic earlier this month. 

“James hasn’t been available to Celtic for the last eight or ten days, he’s not involved tonight either. He’s just played 15 minutes, we had a good conversation and realistically the October window is more realistic for James, if get gets games under his belt and feels well again.” 

Robbie Brady has been excluded, too: he is currently a free agent and training with the Ireland fitness coach, Damien Doyle. 

“I’m a massive fan of Robbie Bray”, said Kenny. “I rate him very highly. He has been in all my squads  but just had an Achilles injury that he has got sorted back. He’s back training and he I’m sure maybe October is more realistic for him, signing for a club and getting fixed up and getting some matches under his belt. He’s still so young and he has got so much football left in him. He’s such a talent.” 

Some members of Kenny’s 25-man squad aren’t playing first-team games at the moment, either. Harry Arter and Jayson Molumby have been playing U23 games for Nottingham Forest and Brighton respectively, and Kenny says some of his sidelined players are hoping to seal a move before the transfer window closes next week. 

“Some of them are looking to get moves this week and that will be a factor. At least three players could move this week and so we will have to see how that goes. A couple of players haven’t been getting football. Harry Arter, for example, has been playing U23s matches and is due to play one tomorrow for Nottingham Forest.

“It’s not ideal. The way his career has evolved he is a natural defensive midfield player so he is different than the others in that he can play that holding position. His attitude has been great. He trained well in our camp in June and he comes into the squad for that reason. Jayson Molumby at Brighton, we’ll follow his progress this week and see how it goes.”

republic-of-ireland-v-finland-uefa-nations-league-group-4-league-b-aviva-stadium Harry Arter. Source: PA

There is no League of Ireland representation in the squad either, though Kenny name-checked Liam Scales and Michael Duffy as being unfortunate to miss out. 

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“Liam Scales is next one in on the left side. James McClean and Ryan Manning have obviously played a lot of games in that position. It’s a new position for Liam, left-wing back. He’s always been a left centre-back.

“I played him left-back in fact against Italy with the U21s. So he has really developed very well at Shamrock Rovers this year and scored some very good goals. Michael Duffy is the other one pushing strong and was very close to the squad. He could still feature over the three games, depending on how it goes.”

Ireland are currently joint-bottom of Group A with zero points from their first two games, level with Azerbaijan, whom they host either side of games against leaders Portugal and Serbia. 

Kenny batted away a question that asked whether he felt under pressure heading into the games. 

“We have nine points to play for this week, it’s a tough week, three games in six days.

“The great thing is from our point of view, we’ve given a whole team of players their competitive international debut. 11 players. They have played in an empty stadium.

“When players dream of making their international debut, they dream about walking out into a passionate crowd and being inspired to play for their country and fulfill their potential. It’s not a full house against Azerbaijan and Serbia, but it’s 25,000 and it will be special for the players and for everyone involved. 

“We want to try and get the best return from the three matches that we possibly can.” 

Republic of Ireland Squad 

Goalkeepers: Caoimhin Kelleher (Liverpool), Gavin Bazunu (Portsmouth, on loan from Manchester City), Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth)

Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Matt Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion), John Egan (Sheffield United), Dara O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion), Ryan Manning (Swansea City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City), Nathan Collins (Burnley).

Midfielders: Josh Cullen (Anderlecht), Jeff Hendrick (Newcastle United), Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa), Harry Arter (Nottingham Forest), Jamie McGrath (St. Mirren), Jayson Molumby (Brighton and Hove Albion)

Attackers: Aaron Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion), James Collins (Cardiff City), Daryl Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Idah (Norwich City), Troy Parrott (MK Dons, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur), Shane Long (Southampton), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth).

Fixtures

01/09 – Portugal v Republic of Ireland, Estádio Algarve, 7.45pm
04/09 – Republic of Ireland v Azerbaijan, Aviva Stadium, 5pm
07/09 – Republic of Ireland v Serbia, Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from FAI HQ, Abbottstown

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