Stephen Kenny’s bad luck continues as Ireland injury list grows

Ireland boss without Kelleher, Hourihane, O’Dowda and Long for World Cup qualifier

Every Republic of Ireland manager probably leaves the job feeling unfortunate not have been dealt a stronger hand while in it but if the FAI ever organises a get-together and Stephen Kenny's fortunes haven't improved in the meantime, his predecessors might do well to avoid trading hard luck stories.

After the chaos of his first three international windows, the Dubliner ended last year rather stoically expressing the hope that he would have closer to a full squad for the start of the World Cup campaign. Instead, three players he regards as key – Darren Randolph, James McCarthy and John Egan – were gone before the squad was named last Thursday and more or less anything that could reasonably go wrong since has.

Randolph's most obvious replacement, Caoimhin Kelleher, had been a major doubt with a stomach injury but suggestions that he had returned to training fuelled the hope that he might still make one or more of this month's three games. The prospect was extinguished on Sunday when Kenny conceded the 22-year-old would not be joining the squad as they train in Manchester on Monday before heading to Belgrade for the start of the World Cup campaign.

Called up

In other (mainly bad) news, Conor Hourihane sustained a hamstring injury while playing his club on Saturday and Callum O'Dowda aggravated one he had seemed to have recently recovered from. It was not immediately clear what had happened to Kevin Long but he was the fourth player to withdraw from the squad as Darragh Lenihan was called up and Conor Coventry was promoted from the under-21s.

There was no official word from the association on Sunday regarding the fitness, or otherwise, of James McClean but Michael O'Neill had earlier sounded like a manager who felt the Stoke City player's involvement with Ireland this week would not extend much beyond a brief medical assessment and a doctor's cert.

“James hasn’t trained yet,” said O’Neill. “For me, he’s not fit. I don’t think he’s fit enough to be part of that squad. It’s up to Ireland to assess him, they have the right to do that – that’s the rules of international football – but he’s three weeks into the rehabilitation process with the injury and I’m surprised that Ireland have called him up. If we had a game on Wednesday night, like Ireland have, James wouldn’t be fit for that game.”

McClean, meanwhile, says he is fine although it is hard for most of us to imagine the circumstances in which the 31-year-old might concede that he is not in a position to play for his country. The fact that he has not been sent immediately packing, in any case, suggests that Kenny might still see some role for him over the next 10 days.

The one of those 10 days that matters most right now is Wednesday when Ireland face perhaps their key qualification rival in a game that could well go a significant way towards shaping the look of the group right into its final stages.


Kenny's preparations have been complicated slightly by a change of Serbian manager that makes the line up Ireland will face, and the tactics, that little bit harder to predict but the former Dundalk boss says he and his coaches have a good sense of the scenarios they might encounter and he is adamant that his players will be sent out to win.

“I suppose a point would be considered a decent result but we’ll be looking to win the game,” says the 49-year-old. “That’s the way we’ll be set up. A point in Serbia is not a bad result; I think that goes without saying, particularly if you’ve the home game to come and a crowd at the Aviva. That would certainly give you an opportunity but we won’t set the team up to play for a point.”

Amid suggestions that some of the squad have struggled with the routine of longer international windows amid all of the restrictions that go with coronavirus, Kenny says that David Forde will come into the group in order to provide support to squad members, not least those who have endured tough times of late, like Shane Duffy whose form at Celtic seems has made him a target on social media with some users seeing the recent death of his father as something handy to taunt him about.

“Some of the abuse has been horrific,” says Kenny. “Incredible stuff. The companies have to be held accountable in some way and that’s obvious to everyone. It’s tough for players to deal with a lot of stuff.

“That’s why David Forde has come into camp for this week. David is there as resource for everyone really. He has a degree in sports psychology – all of those things and lifestyle – so he can help in a lot of ways. He’s a resource for the players over the next two camps.”

Updated squad: Travers (Bournemouth), Bazunu (Rochdale), O'Hara (Burton Albion); Coleman (Everton), Doherty (Tottenham), Duffy (Celtic), Stevens (Sheffield United), Clark (Newcastle United), O'Shea (West Brom), Manning (Swansea City), Christie (Nottingham Forest), Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Browne (Preston), Hendrick (Newcastle United), Molumby (Preston), Knight (Derby County), Cullen (Anderlecht), Coventry (West Ham United), Brady (Burnley), McClean (Stoke City), Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Curtis (Portsmouth), Robinson (West Brom), Connolly (Brighton), Long (Bournemouth), Collins (Luton Town), Parrott (Ipswich Town).

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