The illusive first win for Stephen Kenny as Republic of Ireland manager was blown away in a blustery Aviva Stadium on Wednesday night as the time since the Boys in Green last scored ticked over 11 hours.
The scoreless draw with Bulgaria, earned from the third clean sheet of the Kenny era, did at least mean that his team avoided relegation.
Maintaining their UEFA Nations League B status isn’t reason for celebration for the manager but putting this most difficult of times behind him just might be as Kenny can now focus on the World Cup qualifiers to come in March.
“It was very important that we weren’t relegated,” said Kenny speaking to the media via zoom after the match. “It is not something to celebrate. The big game for us was the playoff in Slovakia. We performed brilliantly in that game but were beaten on penalties.
“We’ve used the Nations League to blood a lot of players. Some by design and some as we’ve had an inordinate amount of players ruled out for a variety of reasons.”
Kenny, who had 14 players from his original squad unavailable this week, described the last couple of camps as a “very difficult period” dealing with coronavirus issues and while it has been something the players have had to “endure”, he praised their commitment to the cause.
“Every couple of days we have had to deal with COVID related issues. It was very unsettling for people, for players with families and unsettling for them in their lives. We lost some players due to bereavement. Sadly James McCarthy’s father passed away. We lost players through injury and concussion. We were missing players in the double digits.
“Regardless all of that, the players showed a brilliant mentality. They gave everything of themselves, took things in their stride and applied themselves correctly. I applaud them for their determination even though we didn’t win the game.
“I never would have envisaged this. I had all these great ideas with plans on how you would manage things but that just wasn’t possible. Dealing with COVID issues, we had meetings through the night. It was really intensive.
“We appreciate their commitment over the last couple of windows as it hasn’t been easy for them - they have given everything. We have a lot of food for thought for the World Cup qualifiers. A lot of people have put themselves forward. We will have genuine competition for places.
“We have players who are going to challenge for first team places and we will need that particularly if there is going to be three games in the upcoming windows. It is going to be a real squad effort.”