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Harsh truth hitting home

GIOVANNI Trapattoni will make only his second appearance at a domestic game in Ireland in two years tonight as he plans to attend the Dublin derby between St Patrick's Athletic and Bohemians at Richmond Park.

But any home-based players hoping for rapid promotion to the Italian's senior squad will be in for a long wait as League of Ireland players are now just not ready for the demands of international football, according to former Cork City and Drogheda United manager Paul Doolin, now in charge of the Irish U23 side.

The U23 squad, made up of home-based players, put up a good show against the senior squad in a training game at Malahide on Tuesday night, with players like Stephen O'Donnell (Galway United), Billy Dennehy (Shamrock Rovers), Shaun Kelly (Dundalk) and Stephen Mulhahy (Cork) name-checked by Trapattoni.

Many figures in the domestic game resent the gap between the League of Ireland and the senior scene, asking why Trapattoni can find time to attend the FAI Christmas party but not the FAI Cup final.

As an example, League of Ireland clubs have played 30 games in European competition since Trapattoni was appointed senior team manager in 2008, against high-level opposition like Dynamo Kyiv, Hertha Berlin, Steaua Bucharest and Red Bull Salzburg.

But neither Trapattoni nor his assistant Marco Tardelli have attended a single one of those 30 outings.

Due to injuries and travel issues, Trapattoni had only three outfield players on his bench for Tuesday's training game against the young colts from the domestic league. And it was felt in some quarters that in not calling into the senior panel some of the players from Doolin's squad, or in not asking other LOI players like Paul Keegan or Eamon Zayed to train with the seniors, and at least bump the numbers in the panel to more than three subs, an opportunity was missed to showcase the best in home-grown talent.

"I would love to see players from the league in the Irish squad, but it's a big ask to step up to that level," said Doolin.

"The league has been good in the last few years but maybe the quality this year hasn't been as good, and in terms of international football there is a massive step up.

"Trapattoni needs results for the senior international team. It's about results for him and he doesn't have time to bring in players and get them up to the level required," added Doolin.

"I thought our side did well against the senior team in that game on Tuesday, but I wouldn't go down the road of telling Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli that they should be picking this player or that player from the league.

"They know what they are doing, they have been doing it for long enough and Trapattoni is a world-class manager."

Doolin's Drogheda United side came very close to knocking the mighty Dynamo Kyiv out of the Champions League in 2008 but he still feels that the gap between the domestic scene and the international stage is too big.

"I said this even when I was in the league, international football is a higher standard and the players in the international squad play at a higher level than we have here, whether that's the Premier League in England, the Championship or the SPL. You have players in the Premier League or Championship in England who can't get into the Irish squad.

"You could even see in the training game on Tuesday night, there was a difference physically between the senior team and our U23 squad, our players got tired towards the end.


It was a good game, I know our players learned a lot from it and I hope the senior players got something from it too, as we did play well in the match," Doolin added.

"The players in the senior squad are full time and they have a different conditioning, some of them have been full-time professionals for 10 or 12 years, but our players aren't at that level. Maybe that will change in time, I don't know.

"It's a big ask for players here to go and play against senior, experienced internationals. You look at someone like Leon Best, he's only 23 years of age but he's so different physically compared to our players. He had that condition and that upper-body strength that comes from being a full-time professional since he was 15 or 16.

"We do have quality and talented players here in the league and we have some teams who have done well in European competition. But our problem here in Ireland is that when clubs get close to where they want to be in terms of Europe, they fall away. The league here is not sustainable as a full-time league.

"Four or five years ago, the league here was on the way up and it was a strong league, not just a couple of clubs. They were improving in terms of physique as well as technique, the results in Europe backed that up, but other factors like the finances kicked in and the clubs fell away again. It's a shame."

The U23 squad were back at their clubs this weekend for a full league programme but they meet up again on Sunday to prepare for a game against an England side made up of Conference players. But Doolin feels that Tuesday in Malahide was a worthwhile exercise.

"A lot of the home-based players did themselves no harm in the game on Tuesday. Kenny Browne at the back was excellent, Stephen Mulcahy was superb, he's quick and strong and a very good young defender," added Doolin.

"But you could still see the difference that full-time training makes. Paddy Madden from Bohs came on for our team in the second half and could see the difference in his game, he has that bit extra about him that comes from being full-time."