Stephen Kenny unsure whether excluding unvaccinated players is possible

Shane Long earlier this week became the 15th case of Covid-19, either contracted or close contact, to interfere with Ireland's preparations for a game during Stephen Kenny’s reign
Stephen Kenny unsure whether excluding unvaccinated players is possible

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during a training session at the Aviva Stadium. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny says he’s not sure whether banning unvaccinated players from the Ireland squad is possible.

Shane Long earlier this week became the 15th case of Covid-19, either contracted or close contact, to interfere with preparations for a game during the manager’s 14-game, 12-month reign.

The Southampton striker’s positive test result ruled him out of Wednesday’s late 2-1 defeat in Portugal and also this evening’s visit of Azerbaijan to the Aviva Stadium (5pm).

Kenny last week admitted that some of his squad had declined to be jabbed, a situation he described as “not ideal”.

With Ireland reaching the midway point of the World Cup campaign today and the four remaining qualifiers scheduled for the next 10 weeks, Kenny was asked if a call-up should be conditional on players accepting the vaccine.

“It's a complex question,” he said.

“We have a player who was double vaccinated only last week, or a couple of weeks ago, who tested positive.

“I spoke to Dr Alan Byrne and he said there is probably a 10 or 15 percent chance of that. The player in question is an incredibly careful individual.

“As for forcing people to have a vaccine, I don't know about that one. I really don't know if you can do that.

“But we have learned a lot in the last year about how we do things and it has changed so much. Fifteen is probably not even the full amount in terms of close contacts and things like that. That's how I feel about it.” 

The Ireland manager explained the testing programme in place for players who report for duty.

It was the pandemic which hastened Kenny’s elevation to the post in April 2020 but he’s had to operate with restrictions since.

“We make sure that the day before that players who come into camp have a PCR test before they come in,” he added.

“Once they come in they have another one, you know. Shane Long passed two tests before he tested positive on the third. I'm told it can take five days to inhabit your system.” 

Kenny will make at least one enforced change, with Dara O’Shea out injured, but indicated it will be more. Inactivity levels of several players at club level restricts their ability to last the pace of two matches in three days, even if the Azeris are ranked 112 in the world.

Aaron Connolly is a case in point, as he’s only featured in 45 minutes of Premier League action for Brighton and Hove Albion.

“I think Aaron Connolly is at only about 70 percent of his potential at the moment,” noted Kenny.

“There is so much more from him. He did a brilliant job for us against Portugal on Wednesday.

“We overloaded with Jamie McGrath coming from the right-sided position into midfield to create 3 v 2 situations in the midfield, isolating the position between right-back Joao Cancelo and Pepe.

“We knew there was a big gap there because Cancelo is so attacking and Aaron punched holes in that left channel all night.

“He carried the ball with such pace but probably because he has not been playing regularly and other issues, I think he can be so much better. We have to nurture him.”

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