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Trap prepares for change

IT'S been a good year for fruit. The late arrival of warm air has even kicked off a second growth of strawberries, but it won't last. Autumn is fickle that way.

Giovanni Trapattoni is an unlikely gardener but he embraces the concept of pruning, an activity usually undertaken when the object of the chop is dormant and not growing.

Fruit trees, in particular, benefit greatly from an annual trim and the optimum time is a few weeks away yet, indeed not far off the November 11 and 15 dates for the Euro 2012 play-off.

But Trapattoni is not one to hang around and it looks like he has the shears sharpened and ready for surgery.

It's a big branch he wants to lop off. Kevin Kilbane has become a synonym for effort and commitment but in Trapattoni's book, he's a fruit which has fallen off the tree.

"When a fruit is ripe, it falls from the tree," he told us yesterday after discussing Kevin Kibane and Robbie Keane's future in the senior international team.

It just goes to show how subtle cultural differences between Italy and Ireland are often lost in translation and how easy it is to become utterly bewildered by Trapattoni's rambling monologues.

In this part of the world, when a fruit is ripe it is ready to consume and at its best.

In Trap's universe, it has had its day and hits the ground with a thud.

Often enough, Trapattoni has chosen to accelerate nature and wield the axe to make a point, as Andy Reid found out to his cost.

He has never shied away from alienating a player to protect the primacy of his system and Shane Long is the latest on the blacklist by the looks of things.

Picked to play against Slovakia, he disappeared off the team sheet the morning of the game, didn't make Moscow and played for West Brom the following weekend.

In press conferences all week and again yesterday, Trapattoni namechecked Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox before Long often enough for it to be noticeable.

Remember, this is the Jonathan Walters who Trapattoni berated back in June and all but accused of desertion. For some reason, he is now ahead of Long. But the world spins on and Trapattoni is a pragmatist.

Walters showed impressive strength and resolve in his Aviva cameo on Tuesday night and it could be argued he turned the game away from a very worrying direction indeed by giving the Armenians something else to think about other than an Irish midfield with the consistency of Swiss cheese.

Keane let him down in Andorra by, apparently, not telling Trapattoni that he had pulled a muscle, and maybe Long was guilty of something similar.

Sure, Trapattoni couched it in less certain terms, suggesting that perhaps Keane thought he could run it off but since the injury was an issue before the Andorra game, that would seem an unlikely explanation for events.

Keane is unlikely to be fit for the play-offs.

Trapattoni admitted that his injury is "a very, very serious one" and that four weeks might not be enough time for recovery.

It is obvious that Trapattoni feels residual irritation at Keane's behaviour and perhaps he is also looking forward nine months and how time spent in the MLS will impact on his captain's effectiveness.

If the team does qualify, Trapattoni will keep his job and if he has any doubts about Keane's usefulness over the medium term, his first overt criticism of his skipper can be taken as a provisional ball.

He is more certain about Kilbane. He didn't quite retire him on the spot but near enough and by doing it so publicly, showed more evidence of a casual disregard for niceties.

It's a flaw in his make-up and just an examples of his ruthlessness, but he has displayed this characteristic often since he hung Reid out to dry.

Since that mad night in Wiesbaden, Trapattoni has been viewed with a mixture of trepidation and respect by most of the Irish players.

He insists on meddling in the players' club lives, which has caused further friction.

Some rustling in the undergrowth suggests that Kevin Doyle is a less than happy camper at the moment for that reason.

There is little affection on view between Trapattoni and his players and that is clearly the way he wants it. It's a dangerous game, particularly when a manger is looking for a new contract and could do with the support of his squad.

He will get that if Ireland qualify for the Euro 2012 finals but if the play-off delivers further disappointment, he might not find much support among the senior players -- not even from his captain.

It is odd that a manager who has had just one defeat in two qualifying campaigns and has delivered consecutive play-off appearances should be doubted so much.

Trapattoni claims that the crowd and maybe the players want "The Show" but will settle for "The Result", but that logic only works if he proves to be a winner.