Trapattoni: Spoiled for choice
Trapattoni now has deeper pool of talent than at any other point in his reign
AS next month's play-off grows closer, Giovanni Trapattoni will nervously monitor events in England and pray that his players avoid injuries.
After a career spent at the top table, Trapattoni is used to having a wealth of options at his disposal.
He considers the Irish job to be a different kind of project, frequently bemoaning the lack of strength-in-depth and the fact that so many of his players are starved of game-time.
The reality, however, is that the 72-year-old now has a stronger hand at his disposal than at any other time in his tenure.
Look at the Premier League as an example. We are only two months into the new season and, already, Trapattoni could pick 28 players that have figured.
Three quarters of that contingent could be considered as regulars, and there are other young players who should grow in stature as the season progresses.
Contrast that with the Italian's first year in charge, when just 26 Irishmen featured across the entire Premier League campaign.
And that number included the likes of Dean Kiely, Anthony Stokes, Joey O'Brien, Daryl Murphy and youngsters Keith Treacy and Aaron Doran, who made a handful of appearances between them.
Only England and France have more senior players in the top flight. Ireland may be a small country, but the proximity to one of the two best leagues in the world gives players an increased chance to sample life at the top table.
Admittedly, there is a dearth of superstars, a contrast from a decade ago when a shortage of Premier League players was compensated for by the presence of Roy Keane.
In terms of quantity, however, it's been a while since an Irish manager has had it so good. Here's the Irish Premier League contingent.
THE REGULARS (21)
Shay Given/Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
Neither figured under this heading last year, with Given consigned to the background at Manchester City and failing to register a single minute of Premier League action.
Meanwhile, Dunne was in the bad books with Gerard Houllier and spent a large portion of the year on the sidelines. A summer of change has brought this duo back to their rightful place, and Ireland has reaped the benefits.
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
The Donegal lad will have to battle with second season syndrome, yet the signs are positive. Stood out in recent clash with Manchester City, although the Merseyside derby might have gone better.
With David Moyes short of cash, Coleman is now a huge player for his employers.
Damien Duff (Fulham)
Has found a nice level to see out his career, with Duff back to a reasonable vein of form after a disastrous stint at Newcastle that ended with relegation.
Leon Best (Newcastle)
Chris Hughton took a leap of faith by bringing Best to the North-East, but he has actually thrived under Alan Pardew and benefited from his club's stinginess in the transfer market. Has developed a knack for locating the right place at the right time.
Wes Hoolahan, Anthony Pilkington, Marc Tierney (Norwich)
Hoolahan is well known to Irish fans from his dazzling youth at Shelbourne, and is overdue further international recognition after winning a solitary cap under Trapattoni. Pilkington has made a solitary U-21 appearance, while Tierney's elder brother, Paul, was a regular in that sphere. The English born left-back is on the management's radar.
Paddy Kenny (QPR)
Banished from the Irish scene since the Nightmare in Nicosia five years ago. Kenny has recovered from personal torment to become a regular at the highest level again. Mixed messages about his desire for an international comeback.
Glenn Whelan, Marc Wilson, Rory Delap, Jonathan Walters (Stoke)
There's a distinct Irish flavour to the Stoke story now, more than just the influence of Delap's long throws. Whelan is now a fixture in the heart of Tony Pulis' midfield, while he splashed out serious cash to recruit Wilson from Portsmouth and also reached for the chequebook over a year ago to bring the ever-improving Walters to the Britannia Stadium.
John O'Shea (Sunderland)
The Waterford man had a strong run in the first team at Old Trafford before sustaining a serious injury in Paris two years ago, yet his move to the Stadium of Light means that, for the first time in his career, he is guaranteed to play every week. Although he could do without a change of manager so soon into a fresh start.
Steven Reid/Shane Long (West Brom)
Reid has said he is available for Trapattoni in the event of a crisis, but there is no willingness from the 72-year-old to make that call. Long is top dog at the Hawthorns now, with his summer move followed by quickfire goals to announce a permanent move to this sphere -- he got a brief taste on the periphery with Reading.
James McCarthy (Wigan)
Complications arising from his ankle trouble resulted in a period on the sidelines early in this campaign. However, McCarthy is a key performer for Wigan, and the nurturing of his talent will eventually deliver a substantial windfall.
Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ward, Stephen Hunt, Kevin Foley (Wolves)
Mick McCarthy always likes to have a quota of Irishmen in his ranks and this quartet are all a firm part of his plans. Ward is established at left back, Hunt is enjoying an injury-free run, while Doyle is the best player on the Molineux books. Foley has struggled with his fitness this year, but will always be a part of the manager's plans.
FRINGE PLAYERS (7)
Stephen Ireland/Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)
Ireland may never come back to line out for his country and it seems a minor talking point now with the deterioration of his career. Clark has been starved of opportunities under Alex McLeish, and he evidently has work to do before Trapattoni is convinced.
Stephen Kelly (Fulham)
Spent the majority of last season on the bench. This year has brought about an improvement for the affable Dubliner, although the suspicion is that his best chance of regular football lies elsewhere.
David Meyler (Sunderland)
Made a very welcome return from long-term injury against West Brom. In the fringe category for now, yet if his recuperation accelerates along then the Corkman should be a fixture in the side by the New Year. Fingers crossed.
Simon Cox (West Brom)
Trapattoni is a huge fan, but Roy Hodgson is reluctant to commit. He feels sorry for Cox and Cox feels sorry for himself, with Long's arrival pushing the Reading-born frontman to the periphery. Is prepared to go out on loan if his position doesn't improve.
Conor Sammon (Wigan)
A January mover from Kilmarnock, who produced a crucial goal in the relegation run-in to help keep the Latics above water. Roberto Martinez likes to spring the ex-UCD and Derry man from the bench rather than trusting him from the outset. Deserves a chance.
Matt Doherty (Wolves)
A fairytale year for the ex-Belvedere lad, who was in the Bohs reserves until impressing Mick McCarthy in a friendly match. He left Dalymount without making a single league appearance for Bohs, but impressed in his Premier League debut for Wolves as a half-time sub at Anfield a fortnight ago. With a new contract in the bag, his journey is just starting.
AND DON'T FORGET (8)
Keith Andrews (Blackburn)
On-loan at Ipswich until January, and performances there have attracted interest from Wigan. He could still figure in the 2011/12 Premier League campaign.
Darron Gibson (Manchester United)
Wage demands scuppered mooted switch to Sunderland. Injured now, and should find top-flight employment in second half of season.
Keiren Westwood (Sunderland)
Joined on a free in the summer and disappointed to find Simon Mignolet hard to shift.
James McClean (Sunderland)
A regular feature on the bench since his move from Derry City, and a Premier bow can't be too far away.
Greg Cunningham (Man City)
Back to full fitness after unfortunate leg break, and another loan move could be the next step.
Brian Murphy (QPR)
Put pen to paper as Kenny's back-up, and just needs an injury or suspension to the No 1 to join the Premier contingent.
Graham Burke (Aston Villa)
Talented Dublin teenager who made the bench for the Carling Cup and is well regarded by Alex McLeish. One to watch in the New Year.
Mark Connolly (Bolton)
Monaghan lad who Bolton signed from Wolves for €1m. Frequently pops up on the bench -- could well be blooded over the next six months.