Climbing stairway to heaven
Ireland's fringe stars have few chances to impress and earn place on plane to Euro 2012
FOR Giovanni Trapattoni and his squad, there will be no Monday morning blues. Today, they can go to work without any real worry about the task ahead.
Responsible messages will be preached ahead of tomorrow's second leg with Estonia at the Aviva Stadium, but the charade was temporarily abandoned on Saturday night as the Irish boss answered questions with a view to 2012.
Ireland are going to Poland and Ukraine next summer and that should be enough to keep some of Trapattoni's men focused, even if the euphoria will make it difficult to find the intensity that would have been present if this tie was finely poised.
The manager's habit of picking 28-man squads for qualifying games means that some of the lads who flew back from Tallinn on Friday night won't be making the journey to next summer's finals. And, with only one friendly window between now and May, those on the periphery have a limited window to impress.
Certainly, Trapattoni will have a lot of thinking to do between now and next summer. He says that people outside his current squad will get a chance to impress, but, by analysing the manager's options, it's clear there is little room at the inn.
First Choice: Shay Given -- The country will be praying that he avoids any kind of injury over the next seven months.
Back-Up: Keiren Westwood, David Forde -- They are the established number two and three, and Westwood is a trusted replacement for Given.
Dark Horses: Darren Randolph, Brian Murphy -- If any mishap is suffered by those above, they will fight over the next spot.
Non-Runners: Paddy Kenny, Joe Murphy -- Kenny is still persona non grata, while Murphy has also fallen out of the good books.
First Choice: John O'Shea -- Can offer cover in other positions, but Trapattoni wants to play him here.
BACK-UP: Stephen Kelly, Paul McShane, Kevin Foley -- Kelly will definitely be on the plane, but McShane and Foley could end up in competition with each other -- although the latter can also supplement the midfield.
DARK HORSE: Seamus Coleman -- Trapattoni has spoken about using the Donegal lad in the long term, but until Everton do, it's hard to see the Irish boss taking that step.
FIRST CHOICE: Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger -- The favoured duo since Bulgaria in 2009 and that situation won't be changing, although St Ledger's situation at Leicester is a worry.
BACK UP: Darren O'Dea, John O'Shea, Paul McShane, Damien Delaney -- O'Dea will definitely go as the preferred cover, with O'Shea and McShane also considered in this department. Delaney is last resort.
DARK HORSES: Alex Pearce -- Trapattoni watched Scottish-born Pearce recently and is thinking about offering a call-up.
FIRST CHOICE: Stephen Ward -- The Wolves man was excellent in Estonia, demonstrating that he has learned from Moscow.
BACK UP: John O'Shea, Stephen Kelly, Kevin Kilbane, Damien Delaney, Ciaran Clark -- It's looking grim for Kilbane, who was left out of Estonia, with O'Shea and Kelly the cover options for Ward. Delaney and Clark's prospects are slim; the latter is a centre-half, but Trap views him as a left-sider.
DARK HORSES: Marc Tierney, Marc Wilson, Greg Cunningham -- Trapattoni mentioned Norwich's Tierney on Saturday, while Wilson offers cover in a variety of positions, but is suffering for his behaviour last summer. Trap rates Cunningham.
FIRST CHOICE: Damien Duff -- His experience is vital to Trapattoni's plans and he will play once he remains intact.
BACK-UP: Stephen Hunt, Seamus Coleman, Liam Lawrence -- Hunt offers cover on both flanks. It could well be Coleman v Lawrence for a spot in the squad, and the Everton man has the upper hand
DARK HORSES: Anthony Pilkington -- Another Norwich man to get a mention from Trap on Saturday. Can play on both wings, but can also play for England as well and seems a bit unsure.
NON-RUNNER: Andy Reid -- Was in Tallinn as a fan on Friday and, given lack of club form and fact he doesn't really fit into manager's system in any position, he will be a spectator next summer.
FIRST CHOICE: Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews -- Injury problems to Andrews broke partnership up for a while, but this honest pair have returned to pole position.
BACK-UP: Keith Fahey, Darron Gibson, James McCarthy, Kevin Foley, Paul Green -- Fahey is now regarded as next best and can also move wide, so he is on course. Gibson may need to move in January to stay ahead of McCarthy and it's hard to see both going to Poland and Ukraine unless a recognised striker loses out.
DARK HORSES: Wes Hoolahan, David Meyler -- Hoolahan is a real long shot. He deserves a call-up, but he can't operate in this system. Will only be accommodated if Trap wants an option for a 4-5-1. Meyler fits the Trap mould, but needs a run of games.
NON-RUNNERS: Steven Reid, Stephen Ireland -- The former has said he would be available in an emergency and the latter is in self-imposed exile. However, Reid and Trapattoni's relationship is non-existent and Ireland would have to be ignored even if he did announce a change of heart.
FIRST CHOICE: Aiden McGeady -- He continues to develop and was excellent in Estonia. Poland and Ukraine will be a huge stage for his talents.
BACK-UP: Stephen Hunt, Keith Treacy -- Hunt will go, but Treacy has fallen out of favour and Duff's ability to switch removes real need for other option.
DARK HORSE: Robert Brady -- An outstanding talent who is on loan at Hull from Man United. Like Pilkington, he is versatile, but will need others to suffer misfortune.
FIRST CHOICE: Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle -- Doyle's return to the starting XI tomorrow illustrates that these are still the chosen pair.
BACK-UP: Shane Long, Jonathan Walters, Simon Cox, Andy Keogh -- Unless he decides to bring just four strikers and seek added cover in other positions, the first three names should be safe, but where does that leave Keogh?
DARK HORSE: Leon Best -- Out of tomorrow's second leg through injury, but would hardly have figured anyway. Difficult to see who he can unship.
NON-RUNNER: Anthony Stokes -- No matter what he does with Celtic, the Dubliner is not well regarded by the current regime.