Stephen Kenny's first three months in charge of the national team were shrouded in a Covid cloud, which lingered with intent throughout the team's eight-game winless streak.

The new manager’s opening game in September ended up in a respectable 1-1 draw away from home in their Nations League encounter in Bulgaria, where Shane Duffy earned his side a hard-fought share of the spoils. 

The national team’s fortunes have not improved much since that away day in Sofia, while the goalscorer that night has experienced a somewhat familiar fate with his form. 

Ireland’s next seven games yielded no more goals, they exited the Euro 2020 play-offs in Slovakia, courted controversy with the leaking of a story about a motivational video in Wembley Stadium – it failed to motivate as the team lost 3-0 – while two of the senior coaching staff have parted ways. 

The arrival of 2021 and with it came the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign, and while Kenny’s woes appear to continue, on the results front at least, the manager can see the proverbial blue skies ahead as the team settle back in Dublin with a return to normality, of sorts, in the absence of talk about the C word. 

"The atmosphere and the morale is very, very good," said Kenny, speaking at the pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s home tie with Luxembourg.

"It’s different from the other camps, probably because we haven’t had Covid influencing this camp. We have always lost players and it was in the infancy of Covid, in September and October, people weren’t sure of the impact of it and the impact of it on their families." 

You get the sense that the manager is starting to get to know his players a bit more on a personal level, and can start to implement the ideas that he brought into the job but was unable to deliver due to the arrival of the coronavirus. 

The team camp in Dublin is still a good few international windows away from a full resumption of normality, where the manager had explained that he wanted to get musicians in to help with the training camp ennui amongst other things, but morale certainly appears to be on the up since the squad met up in Manchester last weekend. 

"There was that uncertainty, and it decimated our camp," added the manager.

"This feels different, this feels that morale is very good and relaxed. They played well the other night and were disappointed to lose. We want to put in that level of performance, but win tomorrow, that has to be the objective." 

Shane Duffy has proved a positive influence around the squad during this Ireland camp

As for Shane Duffy, the player who had scored the only goal in eight games, you would have thought that Kenny would have been using him like some sort of lucky charm heading into that World Cup opener. 

But Duffy has had a tough time of it both on and off the football pitch as that loan move to Celtic, that appeared a no-brainer at the time to get back playing regularly and return to Brighton to contend for a Premier League place. 

A case of the right club at the wrong time, as both the player and the club collided and nosedived in unison as the Glasgow giants abruptly ended their nine-season dominance north of Hadrian’s Wall. 

Throw in a heaped spoonful of sectarian and personal abuse on whatever social media platform of your choosing and you get a picture of where the player’s head must have been at arriving for duty with Ireland last week. 

The manager may indeed have been doing the player a favour by not starting him in Serbia, but rather allow him to return to his footballing family for some good old fashioned TLC for the three-game international window. 

Kenny had strong defensive options for the away day in Serbia and it would not be credible to say that Duffy would have performed any better than the trio selected in the heart of the defence. 

And judging by the manager’s praise for the dominant centre-half, it would appear that the Ireland camp is indeed proving the tonic that the big Derry man was in need of.

"Some players are raring to go, they want to play, they all want to play. That’s the nature of an international player, everyone wants to play but they’re all supporting each other," said the manager. 

"Shane Duffy behind the scenes, even though he’s not playing, has been urging his team-mates on and been very selfless as regards the whole thing whereby your country comes first.

"That’s his mantra if you like. That’s the way he’s approached it, he’s really getting behind it."