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Heat on Irish to lay marker

UNLESS Giovanni Trapattoni decides to throw away the conviction of decades and sends Ireland out against Armenia in Yerevan with instructions to seek and destroy, we will all need to hunker down, grit our teeth and forget about Paris.

He's nothing if not predictable and every fibre in Trapattoni's being will be singing with caution. Fast, feisty and aggressive, Armenia under Ian Porterfield, became a team capable of frightening the pants off Spain, the world champions.

It remains to be seen how well they have moved on since Porterfield's sad and untimely demise but there is no doubt that on the banana skin scale, Armenia rate an eight or nine.

Since Marco Tardelli announced the Irish squad for Armenia and Andorra, the message from the Irish players has been consistent. Six points is necessary from these two games and six points is the target.

But sitting in the sweltering heat of a pokey room in the bowels of the Republican Stadium, Robbie Keane spoke about not losing and his boss nodded his head in agreement.

It's part of the ritual to put in a provisional ball before a potentially tricky encounter with a country like Armenia but this time, Trapattoni qualified such caution with a declaration of intent and ostensibly, bold ambition.

"In my heart, I think we can top this group," he said, though there's two ways to look at a comment like that.

Maybe his heart tells him that Ireland can top the group and qualify automatically but does his head agree?

Trapattoni has been the consummate performer in front of the media for many, many years. He has no problem displaying his eccentricities, real or otherwise and generally speaking, avoids any serious discussion about his team or his players, preferring instead to act the clown for the cameras. Very little practical information emerges from his dealings with the press.

When he speaks Italian, in Italy, there is no more coherent commentator on football matters. When he is with us, we get equal parts slapstick and seriousness. As has been said many times before, he uses the grey area lost in translation to dodge important questions.

But we live in times when a belly laugh is televisually more appealing than a manager responding to reasonable questions about his football team and Trapattoni goes for the belly laugh often enough for it to be a habit.


No matter. All anyone really cares about is points and qualification and when it boils down to basics, Trapattoni could do his press conferences on a unicycle and still win hearts and minds once he produces points and, ultimately, qualification.

With that in mind, Trapattoni's first big decision of the new campaign is to pick Paul Green to partner Glenn Whelan in midfield and leave Darron Gibson on the bench.

After a summer spent listening to various luminaries extolling the virtues of young Gibson as a potential star turn in Manchester United's midfield this season, his absence from the serious business of the Premier League and now international football, too, tells us that two giants of the management game still have doubts.

Trapattoni suggested in midweek that Gibson still needed to learn that there is a significant difference between club football and the international game and his decision to favour a novice in a pretty important fixture was very telling indeed.

Alex Ferguson told us in the Aviva that Gibson might have 10 or 15 goals in him this season and then left him kicking his heels on the bench. It's hard to score from soft seats.

As for Green, he looked limited enough against Argentina but it was the attitude he showed in that game which caught Trapattoni's eye and told him that here he had a player who would work and work and then work again to perform the tasks set for him.

He won't bring much in the way of imagination or creativity to the show but Trapattoni only expects him to be reliable and obedient, the two pillars of the Irish team under his watch.

It is some opportunity though for a man who cannot have had any real hopes of ever playing international football before the last six months. If he does the job properly, he will play against Andorra and if six points are gathered from the two games, Keith Andrews may find his position taken next month when the qualifiers resume.

Before that can happen, Ireland must score some goals and in that department Robbie Keane is the obvious source.

It was more than a touch worrying to hear him talk about the possibility of an injection in his knee before the game.

He told us that he feels no pain while twisting or turning but that every time he shoots he feels a twinge. Without knowing much more than that, it's hard to tell whether Keane needs some work done on his knee and how soon that might be necessary.

With a huge fixture against Russia in the Aviva looming in about four weeks time, followed by Slovakia in Zilnia, the most awkward assignment of the group before Trapattoni takes Ireland to Moscow this time 12 months, any visit to a surgeon would need to be timed well or a huge weight will fall on Kevin Doyle.

In the meantime, everyone wants to see Doyle step up to another level and these two games provide him with an ideal environment to increase his running total, which currently stands at eight goals from 35 appearances.

For that to happen, Doyle needs support from Liam Lawrence and Aiden McGeady, players who have had no competitive football since April.

The whole issue of Trapattoni's first choice regulars sitting idle on a weekly basis is becoming more and more worrying as the years go by, but there isn't very much he can do about it and when you consider Shay Given's dilemma, there isn't much the Donegal man can do about it either.


The natural urge of every young footballer to carve a career in the top echelons of the game in England may have to be moderated in the future.

With the exception of Manchester United, the top clubs have never been more inaccessible to good, young Irish players and even if they do find a way in the door, their chances of actually playing in the Premier League are slim in the extreme.

But that's a concern for another day. Trapattoni remains adamant that his players will be able to put in a good 90 minute shift whether they've been active at their clubs or not and we have to trust him on that.

However, when the temperature in Yerevan is hovering around 30 degrees, Trapattoni's assessment of his players' ability to last the pace will be thoroughly tested.

Armenia v Republic of Ireland

Live RTE2 and Sky Sports 1 (4pm)