By Damian Spellman, PA
Conor Hourihane is hoping a rare week without disruption can help the Republic of Ireland end their wait for a first win under Stephen Kenny.
Ireland face Andorra in a friendly in the Pyrenees on Thursday evening having won none of the 11 games they have played under their new manager.
They would generally expect to beat one of European football’s minnows, but having struggled to get results with a squad which has undergone major transition and has been affected by both Covid-19 and injuries during Kenny’s reign, Hourihane and his team-mates, who lost a home World Cup qualifier to Luxembourg in March, can afford to take nothing for granted.
The Aston Villa midfielder, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Swansea, said: “It’s been tough for the lads over the last year. The amount of transition and chopping and changing in our squad has been huge.
“It hasn’t been easy. Covid really hit the squad, injuries, close contacts… It hasn’t been easy. The numbers changing in some squads has been ridiculous, 12/13/14 players – and I don’t think a nation like Ireland can have that many players out.
“It hasn’t been easy, but it is what it is. Hopefully Covid is heading in the right direction and the main squad will be here as much as possible with no disruptions.”
Ireland’s performances since Kenny replaced Mick McCarthy at the helm have not been without positives – they were very unfortunate to lose their Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Slovakia on penalties and performed admirably in a 3-2 defeat in Serbia in their opening qualifier of the new campaign.
However, as long as they remain without a win, they know the question will continue to be asked.
Hourihane said: “We all know and want that to be the case, that we get that monkey off our back and get the win we all want and keep moving in the right direction.
“There will always be that little bit in your head that you are desperate to get that result. But I think everyone just needs to breathe and relax a little bit. It will come if we keep doing the right things.”
Skipper Seamus Coleman had already been ruled out of the game with a hamstring problem and has been joined on the sidelines by potential debutant Sam Szmodics after the Peterborough midfielder aggravated a shoulder injury in training.
However, the uncapped Andrew Omobamidele, Jamie McGrath, Daniel Mandroiu and Chiedozie Ogbene are available and Kenny will not abandon his plans to hand chances to blossoming talent despite the pressing need for a victory.
He said: “We want to win, of course we want to win. It’s been well-documented that we haven’t. We’re waiting to win.
“There are several games that we should have won and we didn’t, and we’re disappointed with that. We’ve got to go tomorrow and try to get a victory.
“Yes, we will persist with giving players their opportunity because I believe we will get huge gains from that, so it’s a good opportunity for a lot of players tomorrow, and that’s the objective.”