Sport Soccer

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Praying for light at end of the tunnel

Published 28/03/2013 | 05:00

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AFTER a setback that would test anyone's faith, the devout Giovanni Trapattoni endeavoured to preach the positive on another morning of regret.

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The recent history of Irish football is littered with the agony of late concessions, although considering how Trapattoni's charges mugged Kazakhstan in Astana last September, David Alaba's injury-time strike probably leaves them where they deserve to be at this juncture.

Nevertheless, the religious references were thrown out in the search for understanding and comfort. This harsh experience would be like a "baptism" for his young players, he argued, before adding that this Easter he would pray to both God and the new Pope for help with the difficult aspects of his own job.

"Usually, I pray for life, but I will pray to be clear on what I do," he said. "The result is up to the players, but I choose the players and I will ask for clarity on why this player or that player..."

The latter answer may sound like an admission of weakness, but, in truth, it was only a soundbite in response to a question that guided him that way.

As Trapattoni ruminated on a frustrating night's work, it was clear that he blamed the failings of his players for Ireland's late collapse; his belief in his own judgment remains unmoved.

He came to the table prepared for questions. In his opening statement, he addressed the reasons for bringing Paul Green into the game as an 83rd-minute substitute and leaving Wes Hoolahan on the bench for the duration.

Many feel that the Norwich star would have maintained possession in the final minutes, but the Italian argues that his skills are better suited to chasing a game.

"I thought about Hoolahan," he said. "But he is an offensive player, a creative player. At this moment, I think we needed strength and Green could give us this reaction."

Leaving aside the Hoolahan aspect, he defended keeping Conor Sammon on the pitch and withdrawing Shane Long on the basis that the Derby man is taller and was therefore the best man in the event of late corners and set-pieces being pumped into the Irish box.

A question about Kevin Doyle's international experience relative to Sammon was brushed off. Essentially, he is adamant that he put the correct elements in place to nab the victory before individual errors crept in.

An Irish free-kick was wasted, with Green and goalscoring hero Jon Walters getting their wires crossed and taking it too quickly, thus giving back possession.

"Let me say one name," said Trapattoni. "Damien Duff. In this position, he goes down, we lose time, and we finish the game. We played the ball immediately and we lose the goal."

This was a reference to the 'little details,' the elements that he came in with the intention to change in 2008. He watched videos of Steve Staunton's tenure and spotted little mistakes that caused goals.

Unquestionably, he has tidied up aspects of Irish play, particularly on the road. But, at home, old problems remain, specifically the lack of a cynical, clinical edge to churn out victories. At the halfway point of the campaign, Trap has a number of prayers to be answered heading into the business end.

A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH

The wellbeing of Robbie Keane cropped up yesterday, with the wear and tear of a long career beginning to catch up on his skipper, who has missed both home games in this campaign with niggling problems.

Trapattoni compared Keane to a car with a lot of mileage and also mentioned Keith Andrews and, of course, Richard Dunne in this context.

While he may speak at length about the evolution of his young players, there is no doubt that if all his 30-somethings were fit and available, Trapattoni would lean towards their savvy in September.

John O'Shea performed well over the past week, but Ciaran Clark's first-half howler on Tuesday has been pinpointed as another sin that an older head would not have committed. "I showed him," said Trapattoni.

"You can ask him. He should not have dribbled. I said to him before the game that, in this situation, you clear the ball and play it diagonal because Long or Sammon would be there."

A SUCCESSFUL SUMMER TOUR

Any players with summer holidays booked may have to deal with unhappy WAGS if Trapattoni's schedule develops as is intended.

Ireland take on England in Wembley on May 29, before a home friendly with Georgia, the Dublin qualifier with the Faroes and then a week-long trip to the US that should be finalised over the next week, with a possible game with Spain the carrot that might offer some attraction.

Considering Trapattoni took a dim view of some pull-outs from the 2011 end-of-season marathon, it would be risky for fringe players to give this a miss citing the impact of a long campaign.

Trapattoni will likely give the older heads a rest, but wants to use this exercise to bring along newer options such as Jeff Hendrick, who was given a positive mention.

He also has the belated introduction of Anthony Pilkington in mind. "It will be an important time for us to give more experience and try also the new situations, including looking at Pilkington in our system."

A POSITIVE REACTION

The hammer blow which was inflicted on Tuesday can drain confidence from a team. In that regard, it's no bad thing that the next big test is not until September, although they need to be in the right frame of mind to comfortably beat the Faroes in June and improve the goal difference.

Naturally, there was unhappiness in the aftermath of the late equaliser, but Trapattoni wants the squad to try and use the disappointment to their advantage and take heart from the fact that the forthcoming games against Sweden and Austria are both winnable. He appeared shaken in the minutes after the match, yet he was back to himself yesterday and stressed there was still a lot to take from this gathering. "This group is growing," he said. "There is an integration with the senior and the young players and the atmosphere is good. This group is solid."

While a large section of the support are sceptical about the team's direction under this regime, the players have to follow the lead of the manager and keep the faith.

There are more twists and turns to come in this race. In Irish football, you can always be guaranteed of that.

Irish Independent

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