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Much method in Trap's madness

I almost expected Giovanni Trapattoni to burst into song after the match on Saturday night. But the Ireland boss was too hoarse from barking instructions at his players and harassing the match officials. So instead he just chimed off the "three reasons why I'm very, very happy".

If we qualify for the European Championships you can be sure some bright spark will set Il Trap, the Doge of Dublin, to music. Like Ian Dury's old hit or rocker Eddie Cochran's Three Steps to Heaven.

"One reason is the three points.

"The second is the performance of the team overall and some players in particular.

"The third, equally as important, is the choice of players like O'Dea, Gibson and Foley ..."

If this was a court of law, he might have added, with some justification, "I rest my case". Because Ireland finished their Saturday night's Group B match sharing the top of the table. A testimony to Trapattoni's cautious housekeeping.


In the rush to criticise the manager's innate conservatism, those who feel they know better are often happy to ignore the success of many of Trapattoni's more difficult decisions.

He's been dumbfounding, and sometimes infuriating, the expert pundits since he first set about rescuing the sinking ship. Saturday night was no different in that respect. With three vastly experienced defenders unavailable and question marks hanging over the match fitness levels of some of his automatic first choice names, Trapattoni brought all his 50 years of football professorship to bear in making his team selection.

It certainly gave us something to talk about.

But with Kevin Foley delivering a workmanlike performance, Darren O'Dea nagging and harassing dangerman Goran Pandev and keeper Keiren Westwood making a vital save in the second half, on a night when all three made their competitive debuts for Ireland, it was clear that Trapattoni got it right. Yet again.

It was Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who highlighted a Trapattoni trait that most of us found too farfetched to factor in.

Anticipating how Ireland might play against his side, the keeper spoke about Trapattoni's prudence before adding that he expected a flash of "inaspettato pazzia". Some unexpected madness.

Starting Aiden McGeady on the left wing and Damien Duff on the right, the opposite to where they play for their clubs, might have seemed a bit eccentric but both men caused the opposition major problems and McGeady's early goal was just the tonic that was needed.

"Injuries affected us tonight," said Trap by way of explanation. "We had a great balance in this team and that was one of the reasons we won."

The unexpected madness was the sight of Trapattoni, well away from his technical area, engaging a startled linesman and then flapping on to the pitch like an angry hawk as he tried to get Shane Long on in place of the injured Kevin Doyle. While he was lucky to get away with such histrionics, he certainly woke up the small crowd.

There's an underlying method in Trapattoni's seeming madness. The man's a realist. He doesn't have the luxury of indulging in fantasy football. He needs to secure points to stay in the game.

On Saturday night, he also admitted to some failings. "It was not a perfect performance," he conceded. "The second half was a little nervous. But the result was all that counted. I like the fact that this team now understands how to win a match when they are not playing their best. We can improve."

While the pundits and armchair experts are loathe to admit it, Ireland has gone back to school. Our squad is receiving tutorials in the basic principles of winning international football matches from a renowned expert. As any famous fashion designer in Milan will advise, you cut your coat according to your cloth. Trapattoni is no different.

On Saturday, still in a combative mood 30 minutes after the final whistle, Trap reminded us that he is the conductor of this orchestra.

"We show them how, when we go on the attack, it doesn't have to be complicated," he explained.

"It can be done without running any risks. I've always explained to them the difference between the show and the result. The team is growing in self-belief."

McGeady's progress impresses him. "His first shot at goal, I think maybe a year ago he wouldn't have tried it," he mused.

"I always believed he could do it. We have players of extraordinary potential but they are not aware yet of their potential.

"We have to think about the system and give them this self-confidence and assurance."