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Doubts cast a shadow

FIRST the storm and then the calm, followed rapidly by another small tornado. Giovanni Trapattoni cancelled Ireland's scheduled training session for today and gave his players a rest.

Thunder and lightening bracketed Ireland's visit to Budapest but Trapattoni cranked up the voltage in the aftermath of a worryingly poor and stiff-legged performance by players who we were assured have been progressing through a virtually perfect and trouble-free preparation.

Immediately, conspiracy theories erupted about the reasons for his decision to knock what was supposed to be a busy day for the Ireland squad on the head.

A row with Robbie Keane, a player revolt, Aiden McGeady and plain old fatigue were advanced as possible reasons for Trap's abrupt 'volte face' just a few hours after he assured everyone that Montecatini was a holiday camp and no reason for anyone to plead tiredness.

In between, a fantastic welcome from 15,000 locals who opened their hearts to Trapattoni and his team and made it very clear indeed where neutral support will lie when Ireland begin their Euro 2012 campaign against Croatia on Sunday.


It was quite a sight to see. Pom-pom girls, balloons, paragliders and pomp filled a day with something more than the exhaustion hinted at by McGeady in the mixed zone after a disturbing 0-0 draw in Budapest.

To the neutral observer, Ireland's performance in Budapest looked about the same as every other game under Trapattoni, with a few notable exceptions.

There have been moments during Trapattoni's tenure when the football lifted above the banal and lumpish, but not too many.

Maybe we all got carried away with the Lansdowne Road performance against Bosnia which hinted at a game plan which was far more expansive that anything we have seen before.

Players like Richard Dunne pointed to that match as a benchmark for the next two weeks and across the nation expectation rose on the back of what was an accomplished win over the Bosnians.

But then came McGeady's sharp words about the condition of his team-mates and they seemed to catch Trapattoni by surprise.


They came after Trapattoni wondered aloud about whether his players had learned the lessons he has hammered home from the first day of his stewardship of the Irish team and whether they were committed enough to his system.

Yesterday, Trapattoni set about the task of clarifying exactly what it was he was trying to say in the immediate aftermath of a 0-0 draw with Hungary.

Like most good politicians, mature reflection helped iron out some kinks, but he still left questions hanging in the air as he likes to do.

If he was slightly overwrought and discombobulated by the change in scenery from his home patch to Hungary, he seemed more comfortable in Gdynia where Ireland will base themselves for the duration of the tournament.

And with that came a concerted effort to bring some in the Irish press corps back on side following exchanges which became quite heated in Budapest.

The essentials of the debate are simple. Trapattoni believes that his players did not do enough against Hungary to convince him or the watching world that they could cope with a five-man midfield and one striker, the formation he will meet at least twice in Ireland's Euro 2012 group.

When we spoke with Trapattoni early in the afternoon after the transfer from Budapest to Gdynia, he spoke about commitment and sacrifice.

These words are interchangeable for him and pointed directly to Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle. He wants his team to defend from the front and he was without doubt pointing a finger at both men for failing to do that well enough against Hungary.


He had clearly hoped that Doyle's physical strength and ability to run for 90 minutes would help counteract a pattern of play which completely destroyed his system against Russia and Slovakia in qualification.

But it was abundantly clear from his reaction to Monday night's performance in the Ferenc Puskas Stadium that he was deeply disturbed by what he saw and worried that his message has not found purchase.

His system retains primacy, as does his devotion to the same 11 players for his starting line-up against Croatia, but for the first time since he took the Ireland job, doubt played across his features.

This is very worrying indeed, as is the health of Shay Given and still John O'Shea. The word on Given is that he has picked up a new calf injury or a recurrence of an old one.

O'Shea eased into his training without any great enthusiasm and hopefully, that is simply a sensible approach to his gradual return to match fitness.

But even at the best of times, O'Shea needs games to reach match peak and he is certainly nowhere near that right now.

Given's injuries seem to multiplying. It began with an injury to the back of his knee, moved onto blisters and the latest suggestion is that his calf muscle is threatening his participation in the Euro 2012 opener against Croatia.

That Trapattoni would even consider leaving Given on the bench to preserve him for greater tests ahead is very disturbing.

By hook or by crook, Given must be on the pitch when Trapattoni takes on Slaven Bilic's team.

With all due respect to Keiren Westwood, he is not Given.