Trap confident of hitting right note
CONFIDENCE is a preference and, ahead of a Euro 2012 qualifier where his Irish squad has suffered a litany of defensive setbacks, it was Giovanni Trapattoni who was accentuating the positive as preparations drew to a close.
His rearguard selection for tonight's Aviva Stadium encounter has caused something of a stir, with Premier League regular Ciaran Clark passed over for the experience of Kevin Kilbane and the not so experienced or in-form Darren O'Dea.
Either way, Trapattoni had little way of avoiding a far from ideal situation where three members of the rearguard, including 'keeper Keiren Westwood, are making competitive debuts.
However, the Irish manager made it clear yesterday that he expects the Macedonians to invite pressure upon their own defence.
"They like to stay back," said Trapattoni. "Maybe they won't tomorrow but until now, in the games I have seen, they like to play in their own half."
The Irish camp believe the Macedonians will be looking to counter-attack, and perhaps win the set pieces where the creativity of star man Goran Pandev and their overall height advantage will come into play.
Trapattoni therefore hopes that his attacking stars will be to the forefront of proceedings, with the wide pair Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady coming into this game in rude health. In the Italian's preferred system, they assume special importance.
Taking the initiative in home games has hardly been a regular feature of the 72-year-old's tenure, with his Dublin tests often characterised by a tentative approach.
He will be looking for something different on a night where the lingering questions from the run-up will be answered.
HAS HE GONE WITH THE RIGHT DEFENSIVE FORMULA?
The confirmation that Sean St Ledger was out with a knock picked up in training on Tuesday left the Irish boss down another member of his regular back-four after a hamstring injury claimed John O'Shea. Considering that Richard Dunne enters this game with a shadow over him due to injury and disciplinary problems at Aston Villa, and Kevin Kilbane has dropped down to League One level at Huddersfield, then Trapattoni's favoured quartet is creaking.
Kevin Foley has been waiting around for close to five years for his chance, and is the logical replacement for O'Shea. "Kevin is comfortable on the ball. Usually a defender is worried, but he has quality, he is athletic and likes to take part in the game," said Trapattoni.
The talking point is the other side of the back four. Ciaran Clark was chosen against Wales last month to get used to the surroundings, but Trapattoni has opted for the seniority of Kilbane, who has yet to miss a competitive game this century.
Still, there was a belief that Clark would slot in for St Ledger considering that he knows Dunne from Aston Villa and has a run of top flight games under his belt. Instead, Trapattoni has gone for O'Dea, on the basis that he is around the camp that little bit longer and is therefore more familiar with what management wants. In fact, at one point he appeared to speculate that Clark is better suited to left-back when centre-half is widely thought to be his strongest position.
It's a further example of club form being ranked below the amount of times that someone has clocked in for Trap tutorials at Gannon Park. O'Dea (24) is a strong character, who still has time to live up to his earlier reputation, and can draw on huge Champions League nights with Celtic. Alas, he is currently on loan at Ipswich, where he has failed to hammer down a regular spot.
"This is O'Dea's position," said Trapattoni. "He has played there for us against South Africa. Clark is maybe better on the left and he's still young. We need experience in this position, and O'Dea is more experienced."
CAN IRELAND COPE WITHOUT SHAY GIVEN?
The last time that the Donegal man spent a lengthy period on the sidelines around Irish competitive games, the thrashing to Cyprus and the near calamity in San Marino happened.
It didn't necessarily revolve around the competence of his replacements. Another factor was just the general lack of organisation and communication that an experienced presence like Given could have solved. Westwood has been around the squad for a couple of years and picked up friendly caps, but this is an entirely different proposition.
"Keiren has played in friendly games, but also every time in training, we see him and we have trust and confidence in him," said Trapattoni.
"I trust him a lot and it's good that he has a big personality also."
CAN DARRON GIBSON FINALLY ESTABLISH HIMSELF?
Gibson was pitched in for a World Cup qualifier against Cyprus three years ago when Trapattoni gave him a first chance to make the central midfield berth his own. It proved a false dawn, with Gibson yet to convince in subsequent auditions despite the fact that he undoubtedly possesses a lot of ability.
The Derry lad has admitted that he isn't naturally suited to the holding midfield role in a Trapattoni 4-4-2, while the Irish boss has indicated that the 23-year-old could benefit from learning the hard way in a less salubrious environment to toughen up and adapt to the role.
Gibson gets the nod ahead of Paul Green here, and Trapattoni was delighted to be asked why. From his study of Macedonia, he reckons they might sit back and give the Manchester United man an opportunity to rove forward and even unleash a shot from distance like the stunner against Wales. "Maybe against more creative or technical teams, we need Green because he is very aggressive," said Trapattoni.
"But in this game, I hope we can play near their box. I will be telling my players to shoot. That's why I made the decision for this game. It's a different situation."
IS ROBBIE KEANE READY?
The management is sure and the player is happy, so they're making all the right noises. Nevertheless, with Shane Long starring in the October games and knocking in the goals for Reading yet confined to the bench, the captain needs to justify his inclusion.
Trapattoni was always going to include Keane if he was close to fitness, but the challenge now is to judge how long he can actually last for. An hour has been discussed, yet Marco Tardelli was of the opinion that the 30-year-old could stay involved for the duration. The manager feels that the team requires someone with Keane's characteristics, with Long providing an all-action style that could be deemed similar to Doyle.
"Young players might be stronger in the sense they run more, but there are more important things in certain situations," he said. "Sometimes you must give priority to the experienced who can build the game, particularly when the opponents aren't giving much space. Otherwise, there's nowhere to run to, and there's no point just running about."
Another possible striking option, Jonathan Walters, is unavailable for pressing family reasons after his wife gave birth on Thursday.
WHEN TO INTRODUCE JAMES McCARTHY?
There was no ambiguity from Trapattoni with respect to McCarthy in the pre-match press conference. "He will definitely play," the Irish manager asserted in response to a query on what would happen if the teams were level well into the second half.
Earlier in the week, Trapattoni had said McCarthy would be brought on, if only for just two minutes, but insists the time frame was a joke. He still doesn't seem entirely sure where the 20-year-old shall fit in when he is introduced from the bench, most likely to a rapturous reception. One option he consistently floats is to use him behind a solitary striker, which means that he could actually be an option to replace Keane.
"In the next game (v Uruguay on Tuesday), I could maybe look at another system. I have changed many systems in career. I have thought we could play someone like Stephen Ireland ... or now someone like McCarthy behind one striker. Away from home, it's a good option," mused Trapattoni.
It will be interesting to see how the replacements are utilised if parity exists beyond the half-time interval. The feeling is that, deep down, Trapattoni believes it won't come to that.
Prediction: Ireland 2 Macedonia 0