Fighting-fit boss puts brave face on selection headache
THE good news is that Giovanni Trapattoni is fit and well. The bad news is that the same can't be said for a number of his key players.
In the build-up to the Euro 2012 campaign, which starts against Armenia in Yerevan this Friday, both Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli have stressed that the availability of their leading stars was the most important element to get right when it came to crossing the final hurdle and qualifying this time around.
So while the Irish boss -- fresh from his recent stint in the Mater Hospital after a stomach operation -- was back on the training ground yesterday, he was overseeing a session without some of his favoured performers.
He'd already had a few days to come to terms with Keith Andrews' absence, but the late setback for Damien Duff was disastrous news -- especially when the Dubliner had only come off with five minutes left of Fulham's draw with Blackpool on Saturday. Considering that the winger had also played the entirety of a Carling Cup tie with Port Vale earlier in the week, it's particularly disappointing.
Throw in the doubts surrounding Aiden McGeady, Liam Lawrence and Paul McShane, the confirmation that a new option, Preston's Keith Treacy, misses Yerevan, and the complications arising from the transfer window which might affect this morning's training attendance, then it's hardly an ideal preparation.
Still, Trapattoni was putting a brave face on as he brushed aside his own recent travails to look towards the Armenian test. "Thank God I feel well. I can run, but the doctor said be calm. He reminded me I am old, but I feel well," he said.
"We will not look for excuses. Damien is important for us, a great player. And we also have two or three players without teams, but I saw that they were calm -- (Robbie) Keane, Shay Given and I am sure they will have a good reaction.
"We miss Damien, sure, but I remember against Italy, he did not play because he was injured. We're a team with good options. It's not my habit to look for excuses. He's missing or he's not missing."
The positive side of the equation is that the difficulties have justified the summer training camp, for Trapattoni now knows a lot more about the possible alternatives.
Derby's Paul Green, who shone in that exercise, appears poised to capitalise from the Andrews injury and partner Glenn Whelan in the engine room. Keith Fahey will figure in the equation arising from the wide roles, although McGeady and Lawrence should start if they shake off their respective injuries.
"We have options now," said Trapattoni. "Yes it is difficult to break up (the Whelan and Andrews pairing) because, also in the past, they were a beautiful couple. They synchronised well.
"There are players with other qualities now. Green is aggressive, he looks for the ball. Darron Gibson also. He shoots well. I am sure Paul Green is ready to play. I haven't decided now between him, Gibson and Whelan but I am sure he's ready to play.
"Gibson is a good player. I can't say to him to go to another club (on loan) because his club decides this. I think he can improve again. Manchester United dominate for 90 minutes of play. It's different now, psychologically, with Ireland. There are tough games. Over there, it will be a completely different game."
Trapattoni, who is targeting six points from the opening two games -- with Andorra in Dublin the following Tuesday evening the next opposition in line for Ireland -- is essentially going to go for battle-hardened experience to secure that goal.
Therefore, Kevin Kilbane will start at left-back, with emerging Manchester City talent Greg Cunningham considered too raw for this kind of challenge.
"In the last friendly game, I tried him in this position and I liked him," Trapattoni said.
"We look always for the good options. But we must not forget that in an away game we need experience and I can also change when the game flows.
"It's a risk to start away with young players when there is a great responsibility. I have to allow him to mature."