No margin for error if Trap is to survive
IF it all goes wrong in a fortnight's time, then it is possible that Giovanni Trapattoni made his last squad announcement as Ireland manager in Abbotstown yesterday.
That is not hyperbole. Trapattoni's good friend Liam Brady said earlier this week that, privately, the Italian knows what is at stake in the World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria. Put simply, the margin of error is slim.
The FAI made it clear in the fall-out from the manager's row with Stephen Kelly last month that their patience is running thin.
Evidently, both parties were determined to avoid a repeat when discussion turned to the presence of the Reading defender in the provisional 29-man squad that will be chopped to 23 next week.
In a break from the norm, Trapattoni tried to cut questions on the topic short, while an FAI press officer attempted to intervene on a number of occasions when the floor wondered if a player's suggestion that his international manager had defamed him had affected their relationship.
They haven't spoken since, but the 73-year-old wants to put that dispute in the past.
Meanwhile, he has spoken to Darron Gibson, who confirmed that he will play no part in the immediate future.
The lengthy discussions about these players provided a distraction from the magnitude of what is coming down the tracks on March 22 and March 26. "We must concentrate on the next game," Trapattoni stressed.
What did we learn about his plans for Stockholm?
In Richard Dunne's absence, Trapattoni is leaning towards a partnership of John O'Shea and Ciaran Clark, referencing the fact that they are both lining out regularly for their clubs, whereas Darren O'Dea is at an early stage of his season and Sean St Ledger is short on match practice.
"We have confidence in Clark and I am watching his personality grow," said Trapattoni.
Seamus Coleman is a certainty for right-back, while Marc Wilson is in pole position to resume at left-full after assuring management that he is completely recovered from the broken fibula that threatened to halt his progress.
"Marc is confident and that is important because he played well for us in the last games and is good technically," said the manager.
The unavailability of the injured Keith Andrews and Gibson's continued exile means that Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy will get the nod in the centre of the park.
Although Dunne had initially been spoken about as the man to shackle Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Irish supremo feels that his engine room will have a major part in curbing the influence of the roaming Paris St Germain star.
Further up the pitch, Wes Hoolahan and Conor Sammon, who stood to benefit from the 2-0 win over Poland, have been told they will have to settle for roles as substitutes, which is no great surprise – especially in regard to the Norwich ace.
"I would be tempted to put them in immediately, but I think I also wish to give them the opportunity to watch what happens in the game, because I think they could make an impact as subs," said Trapattoni.
Anthony Pilkington is included after a hamstring complaint scuppered his planned Polish debut, and Marco Tardelli will be at Carrow Road to watch him and Hoolahan play against Southampton today.
The thinking with regard to Ireland's wide players will be linked with his forward choices, with Simon Cox, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long possibilities for either role – assuming Long overcomes his ankle injury.
Robbie Keane will travel home from the United States expecting to play, although Trapattoni batted off a question about his skipper's chances of being able to come through two games in the space of four days.
"In this game (against Sweden), I think it will be important to choose fast players from the start," he said, with an apparent nod to Long, before adding "but we also need experience for this first moment."
Trapattoni then warned people against underestimating Austria, sensing that most of the discussion has revolved around Stockholm, but that is hardly surprising.
Their unlikely draw in Germany means they have a one-point advantage and they are aware that a home win would put them in an extremely strong position.
For the visitors, it would have catastrophic implications. "They are a strong team," said Trapattoni. "But who is to say we couldn't beat Sweden. Why not?"
The performances over the last 12 months provide a convincing counter argument ahead of a gathering with significant implications. Defeat is not an option.
Otherwise, the next major Irish selection process will focus on the identity of Trapattoni's replacement.