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Trap scraps change of script

Giovanni Trapattoni is back on message. Wesley Hoolahan is not the way forward, Conor Sammon might be and Robbie Keane will start against Sweden, hail, rain or snow.

It was both inevitable and yet still disappointing that Trapattoni chose to speak of Hoolahan in terms of his age.

"Hoolahan is 30. He's not old but I am building the new team with the young," he said and we all knew what he meant.

For a man steeped in caution, it is mildly hilarious that Trapattoni should cite the pursuit of new options and a new team as an argument against trying to build something around Hoolahan's very obvious skill-set.

But it is not very funny for Hoolahan, who spent a lot of time and effort getting here and now finds that, at best, he is an option. And we all know what that means in Trapattoni's lexicon.


At yesterday's pre-Poland press conference, Trapattoni sang an old song about the fact that Ireland cannot boast a Messi or a Ronaldo and we get that. We actually knew that before he did.

But Ireland does have Hoolahan and it seems all the more ridiculous that Trapattoni should waste what creative talent there is in the player pool.

Worse than that, it is insulting everyone's intelligence for this most conservative of men to make a virtue of youth and offer this as his justification for his own unwillingness to try something new with Hoolahan as the pivot.

Hoolahan is better at what he does than anyone else in the squad but to explore what that means, Trapattoni would have to do something different and he won't do that under any circumstances.

"Who else would have found Conor Sammon?" he said, asking for kudos for something he doesn't really deserve.

Trapattoni's scouting has been lamentably bad and many of the players he has 'discovered' in the last few years sat for a long time scratching their heads wondering why good club form was being ignored by the senior international team manager.

It certainly didn't take a CSI team to learn about Sammon. League of Ireland fans have known about him for a long time. Punters in Kilmarnock and Wigan too.

When captain for the night John O'Shea later confirmed that Sammon's greatest asset could be his physical presence and that Ireland have missed a player of his type since Niall Quinn and Tony Cascarino retired, it became obvious that Trapattoni's sleuthing only had one goal. Find a target for the long ball.

A few weeks back, Trapattoni spoke about the possibility of a partnership between Hoolahan and Sammon, but that's off the menu now. "Maybe in the second half," he said and everybody yawned.

Soon after, when asked about Robbie Keane's place in the scheme of things and after a typically long, convoluted and impenetrable spiel, Trapattoni admitted that he will start against Sweden once he still has two legs under him in March, the urge to yawn was there again.

The narrative has hardly changed at all in nearly five years and nobody should expect anything radical against Poland tonight either.

Sammon and Long is the chosen partnership up front flanked by Robbie Brady and James McClean and Trapattoni is hoping that the physical threat and pace contained in that attacking unit will unsettle Poland.

At least Poland don't have a Messi or a Ronaldo either, but they do have a high-tempo approach which helped them draw against Greece and Russia before bowing out of Euro 2012 after losing 1-0 to the Czech Republic.

Allowing for the fact that they had home advantage, Poland's performance in the finals and subsequent rattling of England's cage in the rain-delayed World Cup qualifier in Warsaw in October was still good enough to suggest a difficult night ahead for Trapattoni's patched-up team.

The presence of a big contingent of local Polish fans will guarantee a wholehearted effort from their footballers.

There will be some positives on view. Trapattoni now speaks about James McCarthy with certainty and no equivocation.

McCarthy "must" play, as Trapattoni said yesterday, which is a far cry from the mulish refusal to embrace him as part of the Ireland squad a few years ago.

In fact, eight months ago.

The decision made on the goalkeeping slot was both necessary and welcome. Much as everyone sympathises with Keiren Westwood, Trapattoni needed clarity and a man playing regular football. He was right to lift David Forde into the top slot.


Ireland have been very lucky with goalkeepers over the years and there was an obvious path of succession from Packie Bonner to Alan Kelly to Shay Given.

No manager of Ireland has ever faced any real uncertainty about the position and Trapattoni had no choice but to pick Forde, who is playing every week and is one of life's solid citizens.

Hopefully, Forde will reward Trapattoni's faith against Poland first and solve one of the many puzzles which the Euro 2012 debacle and a couple of entrenched injuries have thrown up before the team travels to Sweden.

But Trapattoni still has a long way to go before he can pick a team he's happy with for the big away day in Stockholm.

His claim yesterday was that he knows nine of the names he wants to play against Sweden, but who knows how many will be fit and available?