Injury victims open starting gates for Clark and Coleman
GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI will enter his first assignment of a crucial year without skipper Robbie Keane and rising star James McCarthy, but will take the opportunity to hand debuts to Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark.
There was always the danger that the cast of characters for tomorrow night's Carling Nations Cup opener with Wales would be affected by its proximity to the weekend just gone, and Trapattoni had already received bad news from Liam Lawrence and Leon Best before he arrived in Dublin yesterday.
Keane tweaked a calf muscle in West Ham's defeat to Birmingham, while Wigan were in touch to confirm that McCarthy took a knock on his ankle during his match-winning performance on Saturday.
Both are expected to be fit for their club commitments next weekend, but the Aviva Stadium encounter has come too soon. "He will not be fit for the internationals. We are sad about that," said Hammers boss Avram Grant, with tongue firmly in cheek, when asked about Keane.
The loss of McCarthy is a particular disappointment after his two-goal show in the dismissal of Blackburn illustrated his immense potential.
Indeed, speaking at the FAI awards later in the day, Trapattoni said he would look to speak with his Wigan counterpart Roberto Martinez after suggesting that the 20-year-old's employers were perhaps being over protective of their star talent.
The absence of Gareth Bale from the Welsh ranks has fast-tracked Coleman's promotion, though, with Trapattoni rowing back on previous statements and now intending to field the Donegal native on the right side of midfield, the role where he has featured for Everton. It is a progressive step to kick off a year where a strong performance is required from the senior team to boost the association's coffers.
"They will play in the positions they play in for their clubs," asserted Trapattoni. "Clark will play left-back as he does for Aston Villa, and Coleman right midfield. I would like also to try Coleman at right-back because we need a fast player there, but I can decide that in the second half."
The unavailability of Lawrence and the decision to allow Aiden McGeady to continue his pre-season preparations in Russia rather than fly across Europe for a three-day trip has opened the door for Coleman to audition on the wing with a view to the longer term.
Trapattoni did stress that McGeady had been assured he would figure in the Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia next month. He was less clear, however, when it came to Kevin Kilbane, the incumbent at left-back who was reportedly a tad aggrieved to learn of his omission for this exercise by fax.
The Irish manager insisted that he had texted Kilbane to inform him that he wanted to examine other options, but something appears to have gone missing in transit or translation.
Either way, it is apparent that Clark has a chance to stake his claim for a role that is quite unfamiliar to him, despite his recent conversion to fill a gap at club level.
"Kilbane is surely on our list. He is not too old and is still a good player," said Trapattoni, indicating that the 34-year-old will be in the squad for the Macedonia, although it would be a stretch to suggest that he is guaranteed his place, with the 71-year-old hinting again that a switch to left-back for John O'Shea is a possibility.
Clark was unaware of Trapattoni's declaration that he will be in the starting XI when he was rolled out in front of the press last night. Understandably, the 21-year-old Londoner was getting his head around his new surroundings -- he pulled out of the November friendly loss to Norway through injury, and only spoke to Il Capo for the first time yesterday.
Having captained England at underage level, his conversion to the Irish cause came about after Richard Dunne got chatting to his Leitrim-born mother, Peggy, after a pre-season friendly.
That set the wheels in motion, and Clark -- whose father Michael is from Donegal -- has no qualms about his decision, pointing out that he was never approached by Ireland until then.
"From a young age, we have been a big Irish family and that is always what I wanted to do," said Clark. "It was a good experience being with England. Ireland never came in at the time, and that was just the path things took, but this is where I really wanted to be."
Did England try to win him back?
"I think there was a couple of phone calls, but I didn't speak to anyone. It was all done with coaches and stuff," he said.
After a string of impressive performances for Villa, his capture is beginning to look like a real coup. A large family contingent will be present for the occasion.
"At the start of the season, I didn't really expect to be where I am now with both club and country," admitted Clark, "It's gone quite quickly for me, but I am just pleased and honoured to be here."
If he produces a strong display on his Lansdowne bow, a first taste of competitive international football should be the next progression.