Foley to end long wait as Keane and Dunne progress
KEVIN FOLEY and Robbie Keane to start, and Richard Dunne and Darron Gibson to join them in the starting XI once they prove their fitness. That was the clear message from Giovanni Trapattoni yesterday ahead of Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia on Saturday.
The Italian has endured an interrupted preparation to the Aviva Stadium encounter, with a host of leading names incurring setbacks at one stage or another.
Shay Given and John O'Shea are definitely ruled out, while the well-being of senior figures Dunne and Keane has been foremost to Trapattoni's mind over the past fortnight.
Both are here this week, though, with Keane further along the line in terms of his recovery than Dunne. The Irish skipper participated in training at Gannon Park and, after taking a full part in the session, he is on target to lead the team out on Saturday.
Last week, Trapattoni had suggested that the 30-year-old's place was in jeopardy given his lack of action for West Ham since damaging his calf on his second start for the club in January.
However, the shortage of experienced options elsewhere on the pitch, as well as Keane coming through a reserve game last week and scoring in the process, has convinced the manager that the Tallaght man should play, although it is deemed unlikely that he will last the duration.
"I cam confident about him and his reaction," said Trapattoni, "Afterwards we can look, maybe he plays one half, or 60 minutes or so. We need experience, and we need to think about the game."
Shane Long is at the front of the striking queue behind Keane and Kevin Doyle, but Leon Best (ankle) is a real doubt for Saturday. Jonathan Walters of Stoke is in the frame, although he won't join the squad until tomorrow, with his wife expecting a child.
Gibson was another absentee from the opening training session of the week as he was given more time to recover from a toe problem.
After his goalscoring show against Wales last month, the Derry lad will be given the nod to start if he is 100pc fit, according to Trapattoni. If there are doubts, then Paul Green or Keith Fahey will come into the frame, with the latter having shaken off his injury concerns.
James McCarthy (right) was present and correct yesterday, but Trapattoni feels it would be unfair to throw the Wigan Athletic starlet in from the start. Instead, he plans to bring him into the game later on.
"James has improved in the last year, since we saw him against Brazil," said Trapattoni. "Today, I said to him in training, he was a little bit shy. He needs to call for the ball."
McCarthy shouldn't have to wait too much longer for his Irish breakthrough. Nothing compared to Wolves full-back Foley anyway. The 26-year-old has been a regular fixture around squads for the last five years, yet only has three caps to show for it and no competitive experience.
The wait should end on Saturday thanks to O'Shea's unavailability. "He knows our system," said the Irish boss. In the past, he has turned to Stephen Kelly, but the Fulham man is dreadfully short on match practice.
Seamus Coleman is down the pecking order because he is untried in that berth at the highest level. In time, Trapattoni would like to develop him in that role. For now, he is a wide midfield option. Coleman went for a scan on an ankle problem yesterday, but it is considered to be only a minor concern.
The one area where an element of uncertainty remains is at left- back.
Kevin Kilbane has started all of Trapattoni's meaningful games to date in that role. Ciaran Clark impressed in that department on his Irish debut last month and, from the way the 72-year-old was speaking, he wouldn't be fazed about pitching the rising Aston Villa star in again, even if his other full-back is relatively untried at this level.
"Clark has played a lot of games," he stated.
Many of those games have come alongside Dunne at Villa and there is a growing belief that the experienced defender will be ready to lead the rearguard, despite joining the squad late to undergo extra physio work at his club.