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Time to cast net for 2012

AS entertainment goes, Uefa draws are up there with the weekly club raffle. Nothing much happens of consequence until the drum starts spinning and then it's all over in flurry of salmon pink tickets, oohs and aahs.

Uefa and big brother Fifa like to make a fuss at these events. They allow their top men to play with brandy balloons, big balls and small balls -- maybe even hot and cold balls. Warsaw on Sunday won't stray from the script.

The host nations -- Ukraine and Poland in this case -- get a chance to display themselves, brushed and polished, to football fans who will most likely never go to either country unless they have a good reason to.

With all due respect to our Polish and Ukrainian friends, it's difficult to get excited about Eastern Europe when the most important destination of the moment for football fans is the southern tip of Africa.

Naturally enough, we would all like to pencil in a three-week sojourn in Eastern Europe in a few years time but right now, the Euro 2012 finals seem as far away as the days when citizens of both host nations poured into Ireland to catch stray drops from the honey pot.


An awful lot can happen in a few years and in the time Giovanni Trapattoni has walked among us (occasionally), Ireland Inc has been shredded, the Poles and the rest of Eastern Europe have fled the country and communal morale has been battered by the weather and rampaging incompetence.

The one bright spot in the gloom, as ever, came from lads and lassies in the sporting arena. Internationally, our best golfers, athletes, rugby players and boxers have never done better and after a seven-year hiatus, the Republic of Ireland football team chipped in with drama to top even the Grand Slam moment.

Too much drama, it transpired. After Henry, those of us who devote foolish amounts of our life to association football have been thrown into a strange limbo.

While the natural rhythms of the game continue home and abroad, the sense of disassociation from football is still in the air and will only dissipate when the final firework explodes over the Stadium in Cape Town on July and thoughts turn from what might have been to what will be.

August will finally bring some more relief. Lansdowne Road will emerge reborn and after that, the first competitive steps along the road to the Euro 2012 finals.

That's why Sunday's draw in Warsaw will be watched with the usual mix of boredom, dread and excitement.

It will be good to look forward because looking back brings only more regret. It will be good to start talking again about the next chapter and cast of characters we can expect to see.

It is difficult to know how much work has been done in the background to prepare Trapattoni for the new dynamic he faces. Expectation will be a great deal higher for this tournament and the continuing recruitment and development of talent has never been more important.

Intriguing possibilities have emerged in the past six months which warranted closer attention from those around Trapattoni than they appear to have been given, but we will have better information on the subject when he gathers a squad in London for the game against Brazil in March.

This is a fluid period in the inter-national game, particularly amongst these islands. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are ever more active in seeking out talented players with dual nationalities.

The Fifa rule change on eligibility has been operating for a month now and Trapattoni had a well publicised list of targets.

Time will tell how successful that particular trawl will be but there are players out there who already hold Irish passports who must also be treated with due care and consideration.

We've already heard Craig Levein speak about James McCarthy in a covetous way. It would make sense to give our best prospect 10 minutes against Brazil just to be safe.

The word from his family remains consistent and McCarthy has said himself that he wants the matter put to bed but it would do no harm at all to give him a cap. He's now a regular for Wigan in the Premier League and he's earned it.

Marc Wilson too has done enough at Portsmouth to merit a senior call-up and although his team-mate Jamie O'Hara has been noticeably quiet on the subject of acquiring an Irish passport, there are grounds to be optimistic about the choice he will eventually make.

David Meyler is making big progress with Sunderland and should have a dozen Premier League games in the tank by season's end.

And how about one from left-field? Steven Carr must be worth a phone call or another phone call if he's already had one and declined. He's the best fit Irish right-full in the Premier League.

This kind of attention to detail should be happening now -- even if Trapattoni is likely to stick with the vast majority of the players who were in Paris for the game against Brazil.


It would be nice to know that he has done the research that will allow him to load a half dozen young and new players into the mix for the games played between March and June.

There has been some mention of a 10-day training camp in Portugal but no hint so far of any other outings for the senior squad between the Brazil game and June.

No doubt opponents and a venue will be found to allow Trapattoni to experiment but he will first want to refocus minds in early March when he meets up with his players for the first time in three months.

Since Thierry Henry's sin, many of the Irish players who were most prominent on the night have faded into anonymity at their clubs.

Trapattoni improved the lives of people like Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Darron Gibson, Sean St Ledger and gave established names like Kevin Doyle, John O'Shea and even gave Robbie Keane a lift.

But the months after Henry have seen circumstances change in a negative way for every one of them. Only Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Stephen Hunt and Shay Given are flourishing.

Keane's move to Celtic and subsequent claim that he was "miserable" sitting on the bench at White Hart Lane is a nice illustration of the Henry Effect.

After suffering such a body blow in Paris, Keane's natural instinct was to get out and play as often as possible but that release valve was not available to him and he has been forced to drop a level to the SPL to find some football.

The same can be said of many more though for a range of different reasons.

St Ledger could have done with a move to Celtic but Preston held on tight to his contract and refused to budge.

John O'Shea is fighting to clear a dogged injury and Kevin Doyle's goals total is nowhere near where he would want it to be.

There's no doubt that Trapattoni has a big job on his hands to recreate the aura of confidence which surrounded this Irish squad and he would do well to scatter any remaining wisps of doubt about his own circumstances created by the Italian media in recent weeks first.