Sunday 24 September 2017

Complacency doesn't sit well on Irish shoulders

Trap's team have done little to justify rising levels of expectation, writes Dion Fanning

Ireland's most triumphant moment, perhaps their only triumphant moment, in the qualifying campaign came in Krakow on Thursday when Zbigniew Boniek drew their name out of the cut-glass bowl.

Ireland produce only a fear factor in neutrals who might be forced to watch them while Estonia are a team everyone feels they can beat.

Ireland rejoiced, with John Delaney's grin as the draw was made setting the tone. Ireland, a team that was fortunate to beat a ten-man Armenian side, began to plan for next summer's European Championship.

A team that failed to beat Slovakia and Russia home or away, was dismissing the chances of a side that won away in Serbia and Slovenia. Estonia lost to the Faroe Islands too so they may have earned their right to be underdogs. But Ireland have no right to be overdogs.

Everybody mocked when England rejoiced at their World Cup draw two years ago. The Sun's headline "EASY" was thrown back in their face when England failed to beat Algeria and the USA.

It was fitting that an administrative moment provided Ireland's high point to date because this is a team to be studied in a newspaper rather than to be observed at play. They are a statistical experiment coupled with a roll of a dice.

Since the draw was made, Giovanni Trapattoni has reacted furiously to any suggestion that Ireland are now favourites to reach next summer's European Championships.

Ireland have played less football in this campaign than they did in slipping between Italy and Bulgaria in the World Cup qualifiers.

When Trapattoni was questioned about Ireland's failure to create chances, he talked about the quality of the players and expectation levels.

"In the campaign before us, Doyle, Keane and Stephen Ireland scored four goals each. This is the quality of these players. Which strikers would you change? One is in America, one is in Wolves. They are playing in the second tier of clubs. The England players play for Manchester United, our players don't play for Chelsea or Arsenal. That is the reality, I couldn't say that. I can't give that as an excuse because it's not fair. I must give them confidence that they can play. It's not like the former Irish teams that had players at Celtic, Manchester United, Liverpool."

Trapattoni, despite raising the stakes with his claims that he could walk away next month, wants to stay and build the team. He believes he has drilled his mentality into this team, even if the mentality is all they share with some of his great sides.

"It's not arrogant when I say we have always played winning football. I win with great players, it wasn't show football. I had players like Platini, Marco (Tardelli) so it was show football when you can. At Juventus, it was show football because we had this quality.

"But when you don't have this quality, you must achieve the result just the same."

His totem, Robbie Keane, once had that top-tier career but now must commute from California. Trapattoni was angry with Keane last week. Angry that his captain had failed to inform him immediately when he felt his injury and then baffled by his appearance in a Malahide bar 48 hours after the game, a time when drinking alcohol, according to sports scientists, can do most to hinder a quick recovery.

"There is a habit, in Germany drink beer, in Italy we drink wine, we don't have this habit."

Trapattoni still can't grasp the habit and he was asked if an Italian player would have done what Keane did.

"He wouldn't have done that, no," he said. "Because we have another attitude. When I ask sometime, 'But why this happen?' I am told there are other managers, McCarthy, other previous managers with a different attitude. For us, it is impossible to understand."

Keane's response to the injury may not be understood in Los Angeles either. He arrived back at LA Galaxy on Friday, a week after getting injured, and he is set to miss all of the Galaxy's key play-off games -- the games he was signed to play and score in -- and could miss the MLS Cup final if the club reach it, which takes place the weekend after Ireland's play-off.

Trapattoni believes he has improved other aspects of players' behaviour, such as their communication skills, but he has always played on his own strange communication and did it again with his contract.

Trapattoni will also be easy to understand when he deals with any complacency in the Irish team in the play-offs. This may be the game for Trapattoni. He could never be accused of complacency. If Ireland had been drawn against a bunch of Estonian electrical engineers, he would still be stressing the need for the right mentality and a professional attitude.

Ireland will need him now as they prepare to celebrate, but qualification may lead again to questions about what they are celebrating.

Under Trapattoni, Ireland do more than just set their stall out. They are the anchor tenant in a shopping mall that sells only long balls.

There is not even the commitment to a high-intensity game that characterised the Jack Charlton era. At times, Ireland resemble a driver trying to enter a six-lane highway who just closes his eyes and hopes for the best.

Things might change if Ireland qualify and the players in the squad deserve to make it to Poland. "There's a special bond between this group," Damien Duff said.

"There's a great connection between the lads, maybe going back to Japan and Korea when Quinny and the likes of him were there and myself and Robbie were younger lads. Maybe it's different now, we're the older lads and we've got the young lads coming through. We've a tight bond, maybe it took us a couple of years to get tight, who knows. But we all love working for each other and we just want to get there."

The criticism of the style of play has little impact on the team, Duff says. "I don't think any of the lads read the papers no more. You can criticise it but how many Irish teams of the past got seven or eight clean sheets on the bounce? It got us to the play-offs, it got us there last time as well. I'm sure you're desperate to get there as much as we are. We just need to stick together next month and do the biz."

Duff is more desperate than most. His anguish was clear to see in Paris two years ago and his complaints were so vociferous that he was dropped by adidas, one of the conspirators, soon after.

The expectation is that Ireland will make it this time. Trapattoni denied again last week that expectation was too high in Ireland. That was before the draw.

He might be saying something different if he detects a carnival atmosphere before next month's game.

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