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Kenny's Covid chaos The FAI’s bubble has burst as Ireland struggle in battle against pandemic

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Referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos shows a red card to Republic of Ireland's James McClean for a foul on Wales' Ethan Ampadu during the UEFA Nations League Group 4, League B match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.

Referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos shows a red card to Republic of Ireland's James McClean for a foul on Wales' Ethan Ampadu during the UEFA Nations League Group 4, League B match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.

PA

Referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos shows a red card to Republic of Ireland's James McClean for a foul on Wales' Ethan Ampadu during the UEFA Nations League Group 4, League B match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.

Considering it was released in 1975, it’s a safe bet that a fair chunk of the current Ireland squad aren’t familiar with the movie Jaws.

But the iconic line from the movie might ring a bell in the context of the drama that has engulfed Stephen Kenny’s group across the last week.

Noting that the shark they were hunting across the seas was significantly larger than anticipated, the main character, Martin Brody turns to his companion and says ‘You’re going to need a bigger boat.’

The line has been paraphrased over the years to suit a variety of needs, so when Kenny’s team ran into distancing problem around the trip to Slovakia, there was always going to be a few ‘We’re going to need a bigger plane’ references with a nod to the situation.

But there’s a simple truth in that. And this is a question that is being asked by dressing room members across a weekend that saw their number depleted by the understandable need to comply with HSE regulations.

Wouldn’t a bigger plane have solved their problems? Or the use of two planes?

Strip away a lot of the debate around the how and the why and the where and the when and that certainly is a simplistic way of looking at how the FAI might have got around travelling when they are operating under the HSE’s distancing rules.

This created a situation whereby an imperfect bubble was fraught with danger if it was penetrated by the virus. Players were a bit surprised to find themselves sitting next to each other rather in a row each, but the FAI perspective, as outlined by interim CEO Gary Owens yesterday, is that everybody was supposed to be negative.

But the proliferation of cases around football in recent weeks prove that the bubbles can be burst. And there’s an argument that imagining the consequences of that scenario should have been factored into travel plans.

The FAI have pushed back their trip to Finland until tomorrow to ensure that they avoid a situation where the result of last night’s mandatory UEFA tests can be received before they fly anywhere.

Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah, Callum O’Dowda, John Egan, Callum Robinson and Alan Browne have missed matches because of where they sat and the player view is that if they were two metres away from each other mid-air then that is avoided.

Owens argued that the FAI would have needed four planes to go to Slovakia in that scenario, but that is based on the assumption all of the aircrafts would be the same size.

No doubt, all of these matters will be looked at in what promises to be a lengthy review.

But it must be acknowledged that players may not be fully versed on the FAI’s grim financial position which is hardly a secret given their public travails.

Privately, Abbotstown officials would acknowledge they would have to look at the cost of chartering a multiple planes when the bubble is supposed to work. They had no problems in Bulgaria last month, but then the case numbers were low at that point.

Ironically enough, the process of organising to get staff members home from Slovakia means that the FAI’s airline bill will prove to be substantial in the end.

The progression of Covid-19 from September to October has complicated the business of making this triple header work and November might be a long shot to happen at all on account of club unhappiness.

Kenny effectively acknowledged that clubs would be anxious about how things are playing out around the continent.

The manager is known to have been deeply angry on Saturday night when learning his Welsh plans were likely to be thrown asunder with insult added to injury by news that the staffer whose ‘positive’ case in Bratislava had ruled out Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah actually didn’t have Covid after all.

Word of a positive case within the playing staff was a punch to the gut for all concerned.

“It wasn’t easy with everything that was going on,” he said.

His press conference across the weekend did interweave with the contributions of Owens, who defended the FAI’s position, describing the issue of where the players sat on the plane as a ‘red herring.’

Owens was keen to assert that everyone on the trip was an essential traveller.

He was on board himself, along with the FAI President Gerry McAnaney, and was involved in attempts to resolve some of the dramas that unfolded around what proved to be the false positive test.

Kenny’s view of essential is slightly different, and he clarified that in quite straightforward terms when discussing the replacement member of staff who turned out to be a false positive.

“He wasn’t taking the free-kicks, do you know what I mean?” he said, bluntly, stressing that he was thinking in terms of who would be needed on the pitch.

There is a lust for palace intrigue apparent in some commentary around Kenny and Owens not being on the same page.

It’s understood that the staff member in question has taken no offence to Kenny’s description of them as ‘non essential’ and the Ireland manager called the person in question on Friday night to enquire about their wellbeing.

“Everyone is important, I treat everyone equally,” said Kenny, “I don’t have a hierarchy. The point I made was he wasn’t a player.”

In a passionate defence of the FAI backroom on Virgin Media yesterday, Niall Quinn was shifting blame in the direction of UEFA regulations under a number of headings around testing and protocols, including that it was mandatory for a communications person to be in place.

And as for the Jaws reference?

In 2016, the writer Carl Gottlieb gave an interview explaining that the immortal line arose from an in-joke related to staff gripes about the constraints of the budget with all of the equipment for the box office hit kept in a single support boat.


Online Editors