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Trap makes it up as he goes

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Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Pic: Sportsfile

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Pic: Sportsfile

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. Pic: Sportsfile

GIOVANNI Trapattoni has worked the room pretty well for most of five years now. But the balance between belly laughs and results has shifted and the audience is impatient.

The old jokes still raise a ghost of a smile but Trapattoni's mangled explanations and evasions are more likely to be met with a frown than the kind of tolerance normally afforded to a favourite grandparent.

Early on, his talent as a media performer was largely secondary to the results he got. He gave slapstick on demand but Ireland didn't lose much even if nobody liked the way the team played.

The national consensus accepted Jack Charlton's methods as long as the good times flowed but, in the end, when he tried to shift towards something a little less lumpish, it was too late and the game had moved on.

On Friday night in Stockholm, Ireland tried to move on again and with some success. Trapattoni, like all managers under pressure, was quick to soak up as much of the credit as he could get.

At yesterday's pre-match press conference, he set about the detail of why he deserves praise for what happened in Sweden, but not before he told us that Conor Sammon will start against Austria instead of Robbie Keane and that James McCarthy partners Glenn Whelan in midfield.

So here's the problem. Trapattoni spoke about his reasons for choosing Paul Green and Jon Walters instead of James McCarthy and Robbie Brady in Stockholm, and claimed that Sweden's imposing physical strength and height had forced his decision.

Austria, he believes, have the same physical presence, and Trapattoni now offers the same justification for picking Sammon ahead of Wes Hoolahan, yet McCarthy is preferred to Green.

McCarthy would not have started against Sweden if Glenn Whelan had been fit and it is more and more difficult to find a thread of consistency through the damburst of unconnected words and sentences which pour forth every time Trapattoni speaks.

"I told him (McCarthy) I would punch him if he didn't stop being shy," said Trapattoni and everyone laughed.

On Thursday, he told us that McCarthy was not a creative player. Yesterday, he told us he has all the ingredients and can play for a big club some day.

 

performance

Against Sweden, Keane played in a withdrawn role for nearly an hour before his legs started to go, not helped by what has since proved to be a restrictive calf injury.

It was a performance for the team and as good as Keane has given without scoring a goal in two years.

But Hoolahan can do the job better. He does it every three or four days for Norwich during the season and has refined his talent over a long and hard road to the point where he can come onto an international pitch and lift a team to a new level of attacking potential.

But Trapattoni doesn't trust his legs or indeed his ability to run box-to-box or his capacity to take on meaty defenders, not that Keane has been doing a lot of that for some time.

He has picked Sammon to help defend set-pieces and engage in a physical battle with the Austrian defence. Most of all he picked him so that Ireland would have someone in the right place to compete for a long ball.

It's a big leap for the Derby County man and good luck to him but it is difficult to look past Kevin Doyle if Hoolahan is not a starting option.

Or Jon Walters or even Simon Cox, once favoured but hardly mentioned at all these days. Trapattoni blows with the wind and Sammon proves that point forcibly.

For a man not known for gambling, it is a bit of a punt for Trapattoni to trust his job to a Championship striker with a low strike rate and no reference point for what he faces in Lansdowne Road tonight.

Defeat will end Trapattoni's relationship with Ireland and the FAI and he said as much after Stockholm.

A draw would badly puncture hopes of qualification and condemn Ireland's new and bright young generation to an awkward and hollow nine months with a lame-duck boss.

Trapattoni, aware that he had an Austrian and European audience for this game, was quick to point out for the umpteenth time how Ireland were in chaos when he arrived to take over the job of marshalling the senior team.

That was the message he wanted heard outside this country where his legend survives untouched by the daily detail Ireland fans agonise over.

In time, Ireland will become another anecdote to regale the next set of journalists he has to deal with and they will laugh at our foolishness.

For the moment, we're stuck with him and must place our hope and faith in young players who want to play.

Prediction:

Ireland 1 Austria 1


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