Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has demanded that critics lay off the eight players forced to self-isolate after breaking coronavirus guidelines, with four of the group set to feature against St Johnstone this evening.
The Pittodrie club are returning to action for the first time since an ill-advised night out by a group of players following the 1-0 opening day defeat by Rangers forced their season to be temporarily suspended.
Two players subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 and another six were forced to self-isolate, causing the original match with St Johnstone to be called off 24 hours before kick-off at the start of a chaotic few days for Scottish football.
McInnes welcomes back four of the so-called “Aberdeen eight” with Craig Bryson,Dylan McGeouch, Jonny Hayes and Matty Kennedy all having returned to training at Cormack Park this week.
The eight players involved issued a public apology for their “huge error of judgment” and said they did not “deliberately flaunt [sic] or disobey government guidelines”.
McInnes stressed the players have now suffered enough. They have been severely reprimanded and fined by the club and are awaiting the outcome of a Scottish FA disciplinary meeting next week. Chairman Dave Cormack has expressed concern for the players’ mental health as they prepare to return to action after such a difficult and often surreal period when they were taken to task by Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, among others. They were also the subject of online abuse.
“I think you’re naturally quite resilient when you’re involved in football,” said McInnes. “We get criticised for our performances and all the rest of it, so we’re all well-versed on having bad days – and people making comment.
“I think what happened was above and beyond that, really. The condemnation for my players was over the top. I was thinking: ‘Right, enough’s enough. When is this going to stop?’”
The two Aberdeen players tested positive for Covid 19 in the wake of the night out remain on the sidelines. McInnes has been very clear in accepting the club had to be humble and take criticism on the chin. However, he believes the condemnation became excessive as people lined up to denounce the players, who were already reeling from the impact of their actions. Hibs owner Ron Gordon recently suggested he was open to the idea of points deductions for those clubs with players caught breaking Covid-19 guidelines.
“A lot of people should know better before passing judgment,” said McInnes. “There are a lot of clubs breathing a huge sigh of relief.
“Everyone let their guard down, there’s no doubt about that. Things started to normalise. There was a cluster in Aberdeen. That may well be another area of Scotland and it makes us a bit more vulnerable and at risk.
“So it may well be someone else’s turn down the line. But we gave people an opportunity to criticise rightly. We apologised as a club and to the rest of authorities, to our supporters and everyone else across the board.
“The players apologised, too. There comes a point where we move on. Nobody has never not made a mistake and I do think we have to have that consideration.
“If there are further punishments down the line we’ll speak about it then,” he added. “They are a great set of lads. I was disappointed at the time but as soon as they walk back through the door we’re here to give them that support. Now we try and look after each other.”
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