Football/Soccer

Vile social media abuse of players must stop: Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny

Shane Duffy has suffered terrible social media abuse

REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny says social media companies must be held accountable for the vile abuse some high-profile footballers have to endure – and also revealed the recruitment of former goalkeeper David Forde as a team mentor for the next couple of camps.

Ireland open their 2022 World Cup qualifying account against Serbia in Belgrade on Wednesday night before hosting Luxembourg in Dublin next Saturday evening, followed by a friendly against Qatar in Hungary on Tuesday week.

Shane Duffy and James McClean have been on the receiving end of some sickening social media abuse in recent times – with Kenny insisting more must be done to protect people.

Duffy was abused by an Instagram account who mocked the recent passing of his father, while McClean has been targeted regularly.

Kenny described the social media abuse as “horrific” and “a disgrace” and says it formed part of his thinking in getting former international ‘keeper Forde involved, who was controversially left out of Martin O'Neill's Euro 2016 squad and didn't feature for Ireland again.

“Shane got abused and someone taunted him about his father who had recently died. Incredible stuff," said Kenny.

“James McClean has obviously had a barrage of abuse for a number of years. [Ireland U21 international] Jonathan Afolabi at Dundee has got it as well, a young player coming through…. So the social media is a huge issue.

“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 probably why David Forde has come into camp for this week and the next couple of windows. He obviously has a degree and a Masters [in sports psychology] and has lectured on the Pro License in that area as well. So he’s a resource for the players over the next two camps.”

Kenny, who is hoping to land his first win as senior manager in Belgrade on Wednesday night after eight previous attempts, believes the ripple-effect of COVID has compounded the isolation felt by some players.

“Some players have gone on loan to clubs and maybe it’s just their personal circumstances that they live on their own.

“It’s not like before where you went into the club, you have breakfast, you train, you stay in the gym, you go and have lunch and you’re there all day...

“[Now] You don’t go to the changing room, you go straight to the pitch, you train, you get a packed lunch and you go back to your flat or your apartment and you’re there all day and all night on your own.

“Shane is going back to an empty apartment and you’re being abused on social media. That’s not easy, certainly not easy to deal with, especially if somebody is being abused about their recently dead father.

“It’s tough being a young footballer coming through, maybe going from Ireland over to England and dealing with racial abuse on social media which is a disgrace.”

Five years ago, the Republic drew 2-2 with Serbia on their last visit to Belgrade in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier.

Former great Dragan Stojkovic, who played for the former Yugoslavia, has taken the Serbia reins after the team were knocked out of the European Championship play-offs by Scotland last November.

Kenny would settle for a point on Wednesday night in the behind-closed-doors clash with the hope of having the backing of some home support for the return match in Dublin come September.

"A point in Serbia would not a bad result. I think that goes without saying, particularly if you’ve the home game to come and the crowd at the Aviva. That would certainly give you an opportunity."

Serbia alongside Portugal are the fancied teams in Group A with the Irish, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan also eyeing berths at next year's World Cup finals in Qatar.

Kenny added: “Serbia's set-up is quite attacking. Under the previous coach they played 3-4-3. Sometimes [Aleksandar] Kolarov was one of their back three, he’s a terrific footballer and quite adventurous as one of the back three.

"[Filip] Mladenovic, their left wing-back – he was actually Bate Borisov’s left back when Dundalk played them – he’s at Zenit now and [Darko] Lazovic was on the other wing.

“Any team that sets up in an attacking way gives you opportunities, so it’s difficult to know [with the new manager]. I know they’ve conceded a lot of goals and we haven’t been scoring of course, so it’s something we’re determined to do, we’re not going there just to defend."

Ireland have drawn a blank in seven of their eight games under Kenny to date - a run that was sorely impacted by absenteeism and COVID issues - with Shane Duffy scoring the side's only goal from a set piece against Bulgaria last September.

 

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Football/Soccer