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'Club bosses won't be happy with Covid crisis but we have to cope'

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Enda Stevens during Ireland training

Enda Stevens during Ireland training

SPORTSFILE

Enda Stevens during Ireland training

The phrase "I'm a footballer, not a scientist" has to be one of the more bizarre comments made by an Ireland player on the eve of a competitive match.

But we are living in bizarre and unprecedented times, as Stephen Kenny knows all too well as he prepares for tonight's Nations League tie in Finland.

Getting to Helsinki with a squad was, in itself, an achievement but with the immediate focus on ending the team's run of five games without a win, the fact that we have to do it all over again next month, with another triple-header, can't be glossed over.

And Enda Stevens knows there could be trouble ahead in terms of clubs agreeing to release players next month, during a pandemic which can even infect someone as healthy, and protected, as Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I think a lot will probably have to be resolved regarding the testing issue, with the false negatives and all that. That will probably have to come into the conversation," Stevens said from the Irish camp in Helsinki before training yesterday, when asked if the Covid issues across the international stage in the last week will create problems.

"But you have to get on with it. You have to move on. There is plenty to play for, especially with next month's games as they have to be played.

"I'm not too sure if club managers will be happy about it but it's just one of those things.

"I will always look forward to representing my country and hopefully, they will go ahead," he added, referring to planned games next month against Bosnia (away), Wales (away) and Bulgaria (home).

The issue of testing, where an FAI staff member tested positive but was reclassed as negative following a retest, but where a player tested positive, then negative, then positive again, has made the topic of those tests more important to the assembling of an international team than previously imagined.

Stevens batted away a question about the frustration of those tests swapping from positive to negative.

"To be honest I don't even want to get involved in that. I'm not a scientist or a doctor so once my test comes back negative and I can play football I am happy enough," he said.

He admits that a triple-header is physically punishing but has helped this patched-up team to gel.

"It is difficult. It's a bit different as it feels like you only played yesterday and you're flying to different countries," he says.

"But it's a good experience and it's great for the lads as you're playing a lot more games for your country.

"You are getting used to each other a lot more and getting that bond. I think you can see that on the pitch from Slovakia to the Wales game, I thought there were improvements. So it's only going to benefit us as a nation.

"There are a lot of new faces coming in, you're getting to know them, you're spending a lot of time on the training ground and on the pitch.

"And most importantly, you're getting to play a lot of games with them in a short space of time.

"It's a huge thing to get those relationships on the pitch. It will only help us in terms of performances and that. I think you can really see vast improvement from the last camp to this one in the way we are playing."

The task now is for Ireland to tear up the formbook from the first games in the Nations League and somehow nab wins from the final three games in an effort to keep ajar the door to the World Cup via the Nations League with the draw for the World Cup qualifiers only weeks away.

"Yeah it's the next stage," Stevens says.

"Unfortunately we didn't qualify for the Euros which we were all gutted about but now we have to look forward to the World Cup and making sure we qualify for that.

"It's not too far away now because of the delay, so once you find out the group stages we can focus on it.

"We have the option now in the Nations League to get a play-off so first and foremost we have to look at those games and try and finish top of the group."