Aston Villa's Conor Hourihane has admitted the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is bigger than football having himself been touched by tragedy.

The Republic of Ireland midfielder and his team-mates will head into Wednesday night’s Nations League clash with Bulgaria having won none of their last 10 competitive games, a run which includes all seven fixtures since new manager Stephen Kenny took up the reins.

Ireland have not even managed to score in the last six and that has left Kenny and his players firmly in the spotlight, although Hourihane has called for a little perspective.

The 29-year-old Aston Villa midfielder said: “It’s not easy whatsoever. This pandemic has influenced a lot of people.

“We’re all worried about results, performances and goals and whatever – and yes, that’s what we all want – but listen, I’ve had a family issue with Covid, somebody unfortunately passing away. It’s not an easy time for people.

“People won’t know what’s going on in people’s lives. We’re all wanting results and to win games, but sometimes there are bigger things out there in life.

“This pandemic is definitely bigger than a couple of goals and a couple of results. But fingers crossed we’ll get a good performance on Wednesday.”

Ireland have been hit particularly badly by the virus with Callum Robinson, Alan Browne, Matt Doherty and James McClean all self-isolating after testing positive in the last week or so, while at one point last month, Kenny was without eight men under the protocols designed to protect players, staff and officials.

That has taken a psychological toll with squad members not only concerned for themselves, but also that they could take Covid-19 home with them.

Asked if he felt safe, Hourihane said: “I do feel safe. The tests are a big part of that. Not taking it home is hugely important to myself, with what has happened in the last few months in my family.

“My partner is pregnant as well, so I don’t want to be taking anything back to her. There are a lot of factors. But once I don’t get it and don’t take it home, that’s all the matters at the end of the day.

“Once everyone is safe around me, that’s all that matters.”

That said, Hourihane insisted he never considered not turning up for the November fixtures despite the growth in cases globally.

He said: “I love playing for Ireland. It’s a very short career, it flashes by you in the blink of an eye, so any call-up I get, I’ll always be here.”

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