St Ledger scare adds to niggling back problems
IF Giovanni Trapattoni sticks with his habit of revealing his hand in his pre-match press conference, then the selection of the back four for tomorrow's clash with Macedonia will command most interest in Malahide this afternoon.
Just as one headache had been cured with Richard Dunne's apparent recovery from a shoulder problem, another has developed with his regular defensive partner Sean St Ledger struggling to shake off the bang on the knee he sustained in training on Tuesday.
He picked up that injury in a collision with Ciaran Clark, the Aston Villa defender who would seem to be the logical replacement if St Ledger failed to recover, given his familiarity with Dunne and his Premier League experience this term.
But, in training at Malahide yesterday, it was Darren O'Dea, who is on loan at Ipswich from Celtic, going through his paces alongside Dunne.
Clark had started this week in competition with Kevin Kilbane for the left-back role and, if the session at Gannon Park is anything to go by, then the latter is now in pole position to regain his regular position after being left out of last month's win over Wales to allow others to gain experience.
In the past, the shape of Trapattoni's team in training matches has generally proved to be a sign of things to come, but the absolute confirmation will come today.
The well-being of St Ledger was the primary concern overnight. He didn't look too comfortable yesterday as he walked gingerly across to watch proceedings.
However, goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly warned against writing the Preston man off prematurely.
"A lot can happen in 24 hours," he pointed out. "We're giving him as much time as possible. It can make a big difference, so we'll see what he's like.
"The problem is around the knee area. It was boot to boot, he kicked Ciaran Clark's leg. It was an impact injury, so he'll be assessed tomorrow."
One certainty is that Kevin Foley will start at right-back, with his position even more secure after Seamus Coleman was forced to drop out with an ankle problem.
Earlier this week, Trapattoni brushed off the suggestion that he would definitely plump for Kilbane on the other flank because in Foley and replacement goalkeeper Keiren Westwood he was going into battle with two players tasting competitive international football for the first time.
He was making positive noises then about Clark's chances of involvement and it would be surprising if he was behind O'Dea in the pecking order, especially considering that the Dubliner has suffered a disappointing campaign by his standards.
There's plenty for Trapattoni and his staff to chew over anyway. Matters seem to be clearer further up the park. Darron Gibson trained for the second day in succession and will start alongside Glenn Whelan in the heart of the midfield.
Meanwhile, Damien Duff took part in full preparations for the first time this week after sitting out two days with an Achilles complaint, and is therefore ready to make his bow in the Euro 2012 campaign. The Fulham winger has missed all four previous qualifiers with unfortunately timed setbacks.
Kelly is confident that the team is in good shape, although naturally he has spent the week working specifically with the goalkeepers.
He was the man between the sticks when Ireland went through Macedonian hell twice in the late 90s, and was instrumental in the selection of the netminders for this challenge.
The absence of the experienced Paddy Kenny has been questioned, with uncapped duo David Forde and Darren Randolph covering for Westwood, but Kelly suggested there was more to the QPR man's omission than met the eye.
"I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you," he joked.
Such is the evolving nature of this week, however, that debate has temporarily shifted from the choice of goalkeeper to the health of the four men immediately in front of him.