If Ireland boss Kenny had any luck this week it was bad luck

If Ireland boss Kenny had any luck this week it was bad luck

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny issues instructions during the UEFA Nations League B match against  Finland at Helsingin Olympiastadion in Helsinki, Finland. Picture: Jussi Eskola/Sportsfile

THERE was a time that I thought Eoin Hand was the unluckiest manager in the history of soccer, certainly in the Irish game. That belief may need to be revised after events in the first weeks of Stephen Kenny's tenure.

A mixture of naivety and suspect decisions by match officials, on more than one occasion, most notably in Brussels for the 1982 World Cup qualifier, determined that Hand's time on the tiller would be fruitless when it came to qualification.

A generation of ultra-talented stars that included the likes of Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, David O'Leary, Steve Heighway, Mark Lawrenson and Gerry Daly, were denied a qualification they deserved, by dodgy decisions from officials and sheer bad luck.

No manager of an Irish team would suffer such a run of bad luck as Hand again. Could they?

I hear fate say, "Hold my beer!"

The last two weeks have been calamitous, regarding good fortune for Stephen Kenny's new reign.

On Sunday, October 4, it started. A Covid-19 test on a member of Kenny’s backroom set-up at the team hotel in Castleknock in Dublin returned a positive result and required the testee and two others who were in close contact stepping down from the team's trip to the vital Euro 2020 qualifier against Slovakia in Bratislava.

On Tuesday, October 6, the squad flew out including an individual filling in for the press officer who tested positive in Dublin.

The next day, repeat tests of players and staff returned one positive result. The new victim, of course, was the communications executive who replaced the first positive testee in Dublin. He was asymptomatic and began the process of compiling his list of close contacts from the previous four days.

That list showed that Corkman Adam Idah and team-mate Aaron Connolly had, for whatever reason, moved from their allocated seats in the plane, nearer to the confirmed case resulting in them having to go into isolation and miss the qualifier on Thursday.

Ireland's hopes of a third successive European Championship finals appearance were shattered by a penalty shootout defeat after a 0-0 draw, in a game where the Irish could well have done with the exciting talents of the two absent up-and-coming strikers.

Ireland's Adam Idah battles with Paulus Arajuuri of Finland during their UEFA Nations League clash at  Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Finland. Idah was one of the many players to suffer from the numerous positive/negative Covid-19 tests.  
Ireland's Adam Idah battles with Paulus Arajuuri of Finland during their UEFA Nations League clash at  Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Finland. Idah was one of the many players to suffer from the numerous positive/negative Covid-19 tests.  

On Friday, October 9, The disappointed squad, minus the isolated group, returned to Dublin to prepare for the Wales game. Idah and Connolly returned to England and their clubs by private jet, believing their time with the Irish camp to be over.

Late Saturday night, results of the latest tests are returned.

And, of course, the press officer diagnosed with Covid-19 in Bratislava tests negative in Dublin, meaning Idah and Connolly could now return to join the squad in Dublin.

Unfortunately, another player tests positive for the virus. Overnight contact tracing identifies four players who sat near him on the return flight from Bratislava as close contacts. Those players are Cork players Alan Browne and John Egan as well as Callum Robinson, and Callum O’Dowda, who were all due to start on Sunday against Wales but were now ruled out.

Sunday, October 11, and despite being down five key players, the Nations League game against Wales must go-ahead with Kenny only having 13 players available to him. The side put in a spirited performance against the Welsh, with the game ending in another 0-0 draw. Ireland might have even shaded it but for another unlucky James McClean red card deep in the second half that knocked the wind out of Irish sails and suspended McClean from the squad.

Ireland's James McClean fouls Ethan Ampadu of Wales, resulting in a red card, in their  UEFA Nations League B match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.	Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland's James McClean fouls Ethan Ampadu of Wales, resulting in a red card, in their  UEFA Nations League B match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

On Monday, October 12, You guessed it, news came out that the player that tested positive on the return from Bratislava had now tested negative in a new test that morning.

Kenny and the FAI appealed to the HSE and Uefa to release the player and the four previously mentioned close contacts from isolation so they could join the squad for the game in Finland on Wednesday. The squad even delayed their departure to Helsinki by 24 hours in the hope the Irish camp would find a resolution. Which you'd admit is not ideal preparations. However, Uefa and the HSE needed a second negative on another retest before granting the players leave to join the team so they were left behind.

In the end, Kenny was denied 10 of his 25-man panel at one stage or another over the three-game campaign. No manager could be expected to come out of that with favourable results. And it was far from surprising that we came up short in a 1-0 defeat to the Finns.

The sequence of events this week would be hilarious if the consequences were not so serious. And that's not referring to Ireland's future qualification hopes, but rather the stresses the positive/negative test results must have had on the players and their families where no one was sure of their situation with the on again off again positive diagnoses.

The number of positive Covid-19 tests on international players this week around the world, including Cristiano Ronaldo, raises the question over the necessity of so many internationals, the majority of which were trumped-up friendlies, right in the middle of the second-wave surge of a deadly pandemic.

As for Kenny, he will surely not face a fortnight like this ever again. He must now take hope and build on the many positives from the games and hope he has used up all his bad luck as manager.

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