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Trap set to lay marker

GIOVANNI Trapattoni is still passionately in love with the game which has defined his life and when he moves along the corridors of the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, lined with sepia-toned images of the Magnificent Magyars, he positively purrs.

He clearly adored Puskas and his fantastic team and tagged them as the Barcelona of the day, a team in which all the parts were wonderful and the sum of them astonishing.

This time Hungary is just a way station, another proving ground for men like Shay Given and John O'Shea on the way to Gdansk and a game for Trapattoni to set a marker.

He is never less than confident and if anyone wants to find reasons why Ireland and Irish players have become so nicely self-contained, they need only look to Trapattoni's own extraordinary self-belief for an answer.

All week in Montecatini, he promenaded through the town cutting a V through strollers and tracked by coat-tailers clamouring for pictures, autographs or even a word.


The explosion of mobile technology and easy access to high-quality imagery could have made a lesser man's life an absolute misery but he and Marco Tardelli accept their due with an easy grace which is quite something to watch.

On the last night after a day of ceremony and good vibes, he leaned over a hedge to speak to a group of us dining out in Montecatini for the last time, offered his hand and laughed when he pointed at a profusion of wine glasses.

"Wine, not beer and not too much," he said. "This is good not just for footballers."


We laughed and he moved on serenely with his wife, Marco and a few more trusted souls.

Fast forward to the Puskas Stadium again and there he is, calmly announcing that his team for tonight's friendly with Hungary will be the selection he sends out against Croatia next Sunday and in all likelihood, against Spain and Italy in quick succession.

Immediately he said it, some wondered about the sense of announcing a team so early for the opening blows of a major tournament but anyone who needed to ask the question has clearly been sleepwalking through the last four years.

Put simply, Trapattoni doesn't really care what other managers or pundits think about him and his team.

Nor does he care if one of his main men hit a rut tonight and end up hobbling on to Poland. He will simply replace him with someone else and carry on regardless.

All week in Montecatini, the players sang the same hymn and all week it was about the work, the same work, day after day after day.

The drills are the same, the schedule the same and the result the same. Players, as he said himself yesterday, "can play with their eyes closed".

During the long, unbroken run of clean sheets which began against Northern Ireland in the Four Nations at Lansdowne Road, almost every game saw a changed back four yet the results were the same.

Before, Trapattoni always qualified his happiness with the fact that his players perform to his baton just the way he likes it by talking about "small situations" and "little details" which still needed work.


No qualification any more. He believes he now has a group which has accepted his word as law and will carry out his orders as easily as they sit down for breakfast every day.

There are one or two points to be made, however, about his implicit trust in his squad and the ability of any player to step into shoes vacated by injury.

It is true that someone like Darren O'Dea has come in and done a fantastic job for Trapattoni when asked and that lads like Stephen Kelly, Keiren Westwood and Stephen Hunt can be relied upon to do the same if required at any time.

But let's be honest, we all want to see Shay Given between the posts and John O'Shea at right-full.

Nobody would feel too comfortable if Richard Dunne limped away from Budapest tomorrow on crutches so there is a limit to the ability of Trapattoni's understudies to step in and produce the same level as we expect from the manager's first-choice selection.


So while Trap will use Hungary to make a statement of intent about the confidence he places in his top men in advance of Poland, the rest of us will watch Given's knee closely for signs of anything dubious and O'Shea's calf muscle for something similar.

"This is a real test for them," said Trapattoni proving that there is still a significant concern about both players.

We will only know after the event but if Trapattoni's squad does emerge intact after Budapest, they will travel on to Poland in great shape and as well prepared as any other team in the tournament.

Nobody who watched them go through their work in the Borgo a Buggiano training facility could think otherwise and now the real job begins.

IRELAND TEAM(v Hungary): Given, Ward, St Ledger, Dunne, O'Shea, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady, Duff, Keane, Long.