DEFINING week starts with beer and McCarthy swipe
IT'S reassuring to know that |Giovanni Trapattoni has demanded more professionalism from Ireland's professional footballers for this week of weeks.
It's not such a comforting thought to realise that he felt he had to.
It was a strange start to the most important 10 days in the short |history of Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifying group and the build-up to two games which will define Trapattoni's spell as manager.
In his three years among us, Ireland have not beaten a top-ranked team when they needed to and a history of home draws and a notable defeat by Russia does not inspire confidence.
So the first day of the build-up should have been about creating a positive atmosphere. Instead, it was beer and more baffling stuff about James McCarthy.
After three years spent imposing a rigid and hugely disciplined system of playing, it was something of a shock to hear that Trapattoni hasn't managed to develop as effective a code off the field during preparation for important games.
By now, we've come to expect at least one or two new chapters, with McCarthy as the principle actor in the drama, when Trap arrives in Dublin, and he didn't let us down on that one.
But nobody was expecting a declaration of intent, which included the guarantee that the players won't be out on the lash this week.
Trapattoni believes that he strengthened his 11 o'clock team curfew during a clear-the-air meeting held before the friendly against Croatia when he confronted them with media reports of some less than savoury events around the team hotel.
He asked them about alleged after-hours drinking and was greeted by silence and, no doubt, some sheepish shuffling in seats.
Trapattoni told his men that he didn't know whether the media reports were true but that there should be no secrets within the Ireland squad so he would prefer if they told him what they were up to first.
No doubt there was a good deal of stifled giggling among the players when they heard that one and even
more when he spoke about his 11 o'clock lockdown.
Perhaps some of them wondered whether he meant 11pm or 11am.
To be fair to him, the issue of extra-curricular boozing has been with us for so long now that it is part of the culture of the senior squad, but it is worrying that he wasn't aware that an amount of it has been happening under his nose.
It is more worrying that journalists covering the Trapattoni and Ireland squad beat appear to know a great deal more about the nocturnal habits of his players than he does.
Perhaps he has been too trusting or perhaps he is still not culturally adjusted enough to know that a few pints can mean anything from just that all the way through to a dozen with tequila chasers.
Perhaps he now needs to station Marco Tardelli on the hotel door to count everyone out and back in again.
Might be no harm to send Marco on a reccy around the grounds in the wee hours as well; just to be sure there's no jiggery pokery, as the great Bill McLaren used to say.
Or maybe he could just stay up a few nights himself and nod in a grandfatherly way as the lads return one by one after two Babychams and a rock shandy.
Nobody asked Trapattoni about the issue of excessive alcohol. He volunteered the information and straight away, guaranteed a raft of headlines which will bounce around Europe and reinforce a few stereotypes.
Trap has a habit of doing this; airing matters which would be better dealt with in-house and the McCarthy situation is another example.
It is and has been obvious for 18 months that Trapattoni has a problem with McCarthy and indeed with his club manager at Wigan, Roberto Martinez.
Why else would he leave McCarthy in the under-21 squad while central midfielders drop like flies, yet claim that if he proves himself |fit he will be considered for the Russia game.
If he is fit to be in Dublin for the under-21s, surely he is fit to be with the senior team and, consequently, available to sit on the bench for the Euro 2012 double-header opener against Slovakia.
It seems that McCarthy always has to prove something to Trapattoni. First it was his commitment to the flag, then to the shirt and now it's his fitness. What this is really about is Trapattoni's commitment to the player. From the start, he kept McCarthy at arm’s length and a few years down the line, nothing has changed.
Nor has his practice of discussing all of these things in public while McCarthy, remarkably, has mostly maintained his dignity and his silence.
Even now, with midfield down to the bare bones, Trap cannot do what any other manager would do and name a Premier League midfield regular in his squad; never mind his team.
It's not as if McCarthy has ever had a reputation as a trouble-maker. In fact, McCarthy has been a model of professionalism in his career.
This is a big week for Trapattoni. He will stand or fall on these two results and he cannot afford to be petty. Perhaps it would be better if he put as much energy into policing the team hotel as he invests in making sure McCarthy stays in the headlines and out of his squad.