Sport Soccer

Thursday 29 June 2017

Trap has food for thought

International rookies shine to beef up manager's Euro options

Dan McDonnell

GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI cut a contented figure on Saturday as he fulfilled his last official engagement as Ireland manager until July.

Save for the drama involving Shane Duffy which, thankfully, had a happy ending, it's been a good fortnight for the Italian with two confidence-boosting wins against Algeria and Paraguay featuring some new players who emerged from the low-key training camp in Malahide.

The frustration of missing out on the World Cup lingers, and he expressed the opinion that his team would have progressed beyond the group stages if they had made it to South Africa.

But at least he knows that next time he appears to prepare for a game on Irish soil, the focus will finally be firmly on the future with the World Cup done and dusted.

While Trapattoni repeated that he had been approached by various clubs and countries over the past year, including a third party -- a former player -- who sounded him out in relation to a role with Celtic after the departure of Tony Mowbray, he clearly stated his intention to stick around for the next two years with the ultimate aim of qualification for the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and the Ukraine.

Just as the Algarve gathering two years ago was central to deciding his strategy for the World Cup qualifiers, the information he gleaned from this end-of-season soiree should influence his selections for the road ahead.

So, who were the winners and losers from the past fortnight?

Paul Green

(Derby County)

There was a resounding chorus of 'Paul Who?' after the 27-year-old was called up by Trapattoni. After progressing from the lower leagues to Championship level, his qualification for Ireland only emerged in the past year. The midfielder said he was too embarrassed to reveal his availability, considering his low profile in the game. He should have plenty more belief now.

Trapattoni instantly took to Green, who quickly learned the responsibilities of a holding midfielder in the Italian's system. Solid shows in the training games were followed by a sub cameo against Paraguay and a starring role, including a brave goal, against Algeria. On Saturday, Trap spoke of his midfield options and name-checked Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Green and Darron Gibson. They'll be going to Armenia in September.

Greg Cunningham

(Manchester City)

Is he ready? That was the big question hanging over the inexperienced teenager who was initially meant to spend last week with the Irish U-19s.

Instead, he was making his senior debut against Algeria, in which he produced a calm display. Considering he has only made three appearances at first-team level for Man City -- two as a late sub -- he impressed and Trapattoni and Robbie Keane have spoken of how a shy lad off the pitch is a confident presence on it.

Ireland need a long-term option for left-back desperately, and Cunningham has jumped to the front of the queue, although there is a niggling suspicion Trap may start the Euro qualifiers with John O'Shea or Kevin Kilbane in that berth.

Cillian Sheridan

(Celtic)

Another late call-up to the squad who clearly made an impression on the training ground as he skipped ahead of some regular back-up players to gain two senior caps. Considering he endured a mixed club campaign with a poor stint at Plymouth followed by a positive spell with St Johnstone, his long-term prospects will be aided with Trapattoni a supporter.

Sheridan is very much a raw talent, yet the Italian has tried a variety of big men in the forward role, so the Cavan man is now in the mix to nail down the understudy post.

Keiren Westwood

(Coventry)

While the 25-year-old was already established enough as Shay Given's understudy, the past fortnight confirmed it with a few nervy moments against Paraguay eradicated by a commanding display in the dismissal of the Algerians.

Given should be fit for September, but Westwood will capitalise if the Donegal man's shoulder problem fails to heal. More pertinently, he showed why so many Premier League clubs are monitoring his situation.

Leon Best

(Newcastle)

It's been a strange 2010 for Best, who secured a big move to Newcastle and then lost the form that earned him that chance. He jumped into Trapattoni's thoughts with a notable performance in the friendly win over South Africa last September, and duly was involved in the marquee games with Italy and France.

This was the natural chance to gain a bit more experience in the international fold, but he rowed with Paul McShane and looked out of sorts in the training games, and was then overlooked as Sheridan came into the fray against Paraguay at the RDS.

Anthony Stokes

(Hibernian)

Another regular in the squad who would have looked upon these fixtures as a chance to add to this cap total. Alas, it wasn't to be. Stokes, so impressive up front for Hibernian this season, was deployed in a wide role for the majority of the training games, although he did score the only goal against the Irish U-23 team.

However, when the seniors arrived, it was others who were chosen to audition. Keith Fahey has overtaken him out wide, while Sheridan was preferred when Kevin Doyle was withdrawn.

Liam Miller

(Hibernian)

In reality, the real losers from this exercise are the ones who weren't here. Miller was in Portugal two years ago and consistently included in squads for the World Cup qualifiers. Alas, despite a decent season in Scotland, Miller has slipped out of Trapattoni's thoughts. Green is ahead of him and so, too, is young James McCarthy, who shouldn't be forgotten either. Doubtful if we'll see the Cork man again in the 71-year-old's regime.

Andy Reid

(Sunderland)

We've been here before. Reid misses a training camp and pays the penalty. Unfortunately, an injury suffered at the turn of the year ended the Dubliner's season at exactly the wrong time. Trapattoni hinted that he might re-open the door for the 28-year-old in this period.

Il Capo believes he would need to experiment with his formation to fit the affable midfielder into his plans. Now, the best chance to test that theory out has passed. Green and Fahey seem more adaptable, while the aforementioned McCarthy will certainly be included for the Argentina friendly in August. The Wigan teenager is more likely to be the wildcard option than Reid. Further frustration lies ahead for his many supporters.

Irish Independent

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