Trap ready for fresh fight
THERE was a first-day-of-term vibe at Abbotstown as Giovanni Trapattoni arrived at FAI HQ to make his first significant announcement of 2010.
"It's been a long time, eh..." he said by way of introduction, sitting at the top table, scanning the members of the audience in front of him, "...after the last disappointment."
Little need to explain the context.
The wounds of Paris may never fully heal; Trap is still smarting from a refereeing howler he suffered as manager of Italy in 2002, nevermind that crazy night in November, so the paranoia will linger. Nevertheless, the onset of a game, against Brazil in London next Tuesday, and the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifiers has given the 70-year-old something to focus on. Over the winter, there were offers to jump ship, but a chipper Il Capo insisted that he resisted those approaches on the basis that his job here is not complete.
The roll call of names for the Brazilian encounter suggested that the team for the road to the new promised land in Poland and Ukraine will deviate little from the group who suffered that miserable evening in Paris.
Indeed, right now, it seems that the only recognisable figure from the last campaign who will be absent when the real business kicks off in September is departing assistant boss Liam Brady, although Trapattoni indicated that the Arsenal employee will still be available to make the odd call on his behalf if lines of contact with a figure in the UK game need to be opened. Trapattoni did name three new caps yesterday, with the exciting promotion of James McCarthy in addition to a surprise call for Manchester City left-back Greg Cunningham and versatile Portsmouth defender Marc Wilson.
While the inexperienced Cunningham's elevation ahead of Wolves' Premier League regular Stephen Ward is an eyebrow raiser -- qualified by Trapattoni on the basis that he has never seen the new caps on the training ground before, whereas he worked with Ward ahead of the 'B' game with Nottingham Forest 16 months ago -- the fact that Kevin Kilbane has been retained in the squad shows that the Irish boss is unprepared to dispense with the old immediately in that problem area.
Nevertheless, Trapattoni dropped a hint that Kilbane's status as a first-team starting regular could change in the upcoming campaign, while expressing certainty that the Hull man is the kind of individual who wouldn't have a gripe if he found himself on the bench.
"For example, before the friendly against South Africa in September, I told the experienced players they could go home, but Damien Duff said, 'Boss, I want to stay' and he played the last 30 minutes.
"These players for a coach, for a manager, are very important because they are always available. It's important you have these players, who can play the last 20 minutes. They don't say, 'No, I am on the bench, I never go back.' That is not professional.
"That doesn't respect the other players. The coach needs players with this heart and Kevin is like this. He is like Damien Duff. I had 2,000 players in my life. I was lucky because 90pc were like this. The other 10pc don't accept it. That's life."
While McCarthy and Wilson may find themselves initially on the bench at the Emirates Stadium, their elevation is significant. In McCarthy, Trapattoni sees a midfielder in the mould of Stephen Ireland in the sense that he has the technical poise and adaptability to play a variety of roles and allow the management to change the rigid system which was ever-present in the last campaign.
Wilson has matured in difficult circumstances at Portsmouth and offers badly needed depth in the defensive department, particularly at centre-half, where Trapattoni is painfully short of Premier League options.
With senior players like Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne set to be given permission to skip the training camp ahead of the May friendlies with Algeria and Paraguay, the real opportunity to flourish for the new boys may be then, particularly with the Italian hinting that those matches offer more room for experimentation.
Against Brazil he wants a positive result, though, and he went further by declaring that he expects that to be achieved, indicative of his belief in his players that has grown over his two years in charge. That's why he will enter the Euro 2012 group with Russia and Slovakia thinking of automatic qualification from the outset; he even stated that he had no preference now about the order of the fixtures, although it's hard to countenance that he will give John Delaney and Co no instructions ahead of their trip to Moscow on March 16for the meeting where the schedule will be negotiated.
"I think that I can do more with this team," he said. Don't forget that in the last campaign, without two own goals (Kilbane at home to Bulgaria and the deflection off Sean St Ledger that gave France a win in the first leg of the play-off) we would be in South Africa.
"Our group is not easy, but it is not strong. And we are stronger than two years ago. We must believe now because there is an opportunity. There are philosophies about what fixtures we need. Last time, I think it was important to start away from home against Georgia and Montenegro.
"Now, I have no preferences; it's just important that our team is ready. It's our approach that is important. It's our fitness that is important. The only doubt I had over the winter is about our injuries; what if Robbie (Keane) gets injured, or what if Doyle gets injured? But now I'm sure we can start again and be strong.
"Sure there was the moment after Paris when players were disappointed because of what happened," he continues, putting his hand over his heart.
"I saw the players crying but I repeat what I said before. Football is a fantastic job. Results give us satisfaction. Disappointments and defeats are bad, but we need to get up again. And it's only football that can pick us up again. It gives us another opportunity."
After falling victim to the snake, the climbing of the ladder starts here.
Ireland squad (v Brazil) -- Goalkeepers: S Given (Manchester City), K Westwood; (Coventry), J Murphy (Scunthorpe).
Defenders: R Dunne (Aston Villa), S Kelly (Fulham), K Kilbane (Hull), K Foley (Wolves), S St Ledger (Preston), P McShane (Hull), M Wilson (Portsmouth), G Cunningham (Manchester City).
Midfielders: A McGeady (Celtic), D Duff (Fulham), D Gibson (Manchester United), G Whelan (Stoke), K Andrews (Blackburn), S Hunt (Hull), L Lawrence (Stoke), J McCarthy (Wigan).
Strikers: K Doyle (Wolves), R Keane (Celtic), S Long (Reading), L Best (Newcastle).