Saturday 21 October 2017

Euro 2012: Keane scan all-clear as final Euro countdown begins

Trapattoni confident he can mould McClean into potent weapon, writes Dion Fanning

Today, it will start to feel serious. Giovanni Trapattoni has had a few days working with those players he wanted, for various reasons, some extra time with, but by tomorrow afternoon, the entire European Championship squad will have reported to Malahide.

Robbie Keane will be among them. Ireland's captain has been struggling with a hamstring injury, but a scan showed no tear or blood. "He should be fine," an FAI spokesman said yesterday.

Three weeks today, Ireland will begin against Croatia. Before that, Trapattoni will remind them of all their responsibilities.

For those who were selected, things are getting real. In a year, Simon Cox has become a centrally involved figure. He is an example of how Trapattoni makes up his mind pretty quickly once he works with a player. Cox was selected ahead of Shane Long for the game in Skopje a year ago and has seemed assured of his position ever since.

He sees it differently. "It surprises me that he keeps picking me," he admitted last week, "but he obviously sees something he likes and I give something to the team that nobody else does. But it does surprise me every time I see my name on the sheet."

Trapattoni's squad was, for the most part, easy to predict but Cox didn't think so. Trapattoni had declared he would bring five forwards after the Czech friendly but Cox was anxious until an hour before the squad was named. "I went out shopping to get me away from Sky Sports News," he says, recalling the tension. An hour before the squad was announced, he received a call from the manager. "Obviously," he says jokingly, "you lot knew four months before."

Trapattoni knows his own mind. He has spent the extra days working with players like James McClean, while establishing the fitness of others. His intention with McClean is to turn him into a player who can hurt sides in different areas of the pitch.

There is the growing sense that the Irish management expect McClean to be a threat in the tournament. Having had some reservations, it would be entirely characteristic for Trapattoni to now view the player as a dangerous option. "He does well with what he knows," Trapattoni says. "I think he can do maybe 10 or 20 per cent more when he knows other situations and we will do exercises and drills with him."

McClean, like the others, will become familiar with Trapattoni's methods. Ireland's manager watched Manchester City win the title in the final minutes last weekend and he used it as a springboard to assert his values.

"It's important to repeat this. It's not a mystery. I saw many teams lose because they make a foul and other team play immediately then. The team was the last in the table, it was a great mistake. They should stay, wait, keep the position. But they play immediately and lose a goal."

Next Saturday, Ireland play Bosnia, another test of the team's ability to absorb information. Trapattoni says he will judge the players' fitness this week before deciding on a team. He suggested that he would choose between Damien Duff and McClean for one spot but "we will try him out", he said of McClean.

Ireland leave for Italy next Sunday and more work on the details, more days of absorbing the information Trapattoni demands. They will play a friendly on May 29 and then have a final warm-up game against Hungary in Budapest.

Trapattoni has done it all before but he has never lost heart. "I'm excited about this moment and I prepare this campaign with the enthusiasm as if it was my first time."

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