Monday 18 December 2017

Cunningham ready to stake his claim

City starlet handed chance to make left-back spot his own as O'Dea and fahey look to impress

Ireland's stand-in captain Shay Given looks on as Giovanni Trapattoni appears lost in thought at yesterday's press conference at the
Grand Hotel in Malahide. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Ireland's stand-in captain Shay Given looks on as Giovanni Trapattoni appears lost in thought at yesterday's press conference at the Grand Hotel in Malahide. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

NORWAY in November. Excited? Thought so.

They may do little for the adrenalin but, with no Euro 2012 qualifiers until the end of March when Macedonia visit Dublin, friendly internationals are a necessary exercise. Especially when last month's clashes with Russia and Slovakia exposed weaknesses.

The performance in Zilina was a clear improvement from the Aviva abomination and, as he reflected on taking one point from a possible six, Giovanni Trapattoni hinted that the clash with an in-form Norway selection would allow him to introduce new blood.

Unfortunately, injuries to James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark have robbed the encounter of two exciting talents, and the manager has decided that the three uncapped members of his injury-hit squad will be sitting on the bench at the outset.

It's hardly the news that will have punters scurrying away from the fire to head towards Dublin 4 but there are elements to this fixture that could prove important in the long run.

Remember, low-key fixtures propelled Sean St Ledger, Liam Lawrence, Glenn Whelan and Paul Green into Trapattoni's thoughts.

In hindsight, these games are more important than the underwhelming build-up suggests.

1 Three who can benefit

Trapattoni has displayed caution with his team selection. He's actually made six switches from the team which drew in Slovakia last month, but four of the changes result in experienced internationals coming into the XI, with Kevin Doyle, Damien Duff, Lawrence and Stephen Kelly included.

The loss of Richard Dunne, St Ledger and Kevin Kilbane has forced the Italian into gambling at the back, with Greg Cunningham in for Kilbane on the left side and Darren O'Dea in the centre alongside John O'Shea, who shifts from his usual right-back berth.

Indeed, it's the experimentation in that department which has effectively cost Seamus Coleman a start, with Trapattoni of the belief that the comparative know-how of Kelly is preferable when there are two novices at this level elsewhere in the rearguard.

O'Dea, who has suffered with fitness problems but has generally impressed on loan at Ipswich from Celtic, will win his third cap. Regarded as a good talker with leadership qualities, the Dubliner has been saddled with expectation from an early age and, as his 24th birthday approaches, will now be looking to deliver on his potential.

Cunningham is the heir apparent at left-back and a loan move from Manchester City to Leicester has provided experience at Championship level.

"One of the nicest men in the world," says his Eastlands team-mate Shay Given. "We know how hard left-sided players are to come by."

The other individual who can make a significant impact tonight is Keith Fahey. The loss of Green and Darron Gibson and the return of Duff and Lawrence sees the Birmingham man move into the engine room alongside Whelan.

His defensive brain is sharper now, but it will be interesting to see if he can impose his passing game from this area -- a development which would give the team a different dimension.

2 New caps from the bench

Following a raft of withdrawals, Trapattoni has just eight subs to turn to. They are Coleman, Keith Treacy, Marc Wilson, Stephen Hunt, Jon Walters, Kevin Foley, Aiden McGeady and Joe Murphy.

Trapattoni is allowed to use six and name-checked Coleman, Wilson, McGeady and Treacy as four who should figure at some stage. Nevertheless, it's questionable whether any of the above will see more than 30 minutes on the pitch.

The 71-year-old manager prefers to do things gradually instead of making wholesale changes at the break. Wilson is set to come into the centre of midfield, although he also offers cover across the back four, while management are keen to try Coleman at right-back, which suggests he will be called on for Kelly.

Trapattoni says that he knows all about Hunt, and might choose the opportunity to learn more about Preston's left-winger Treacy, who won his first cap against Argentina in August.

Walters has had just two days on the training ground to impress Trapattoni but, as the only striker on the bench, his chances of involvement for a few minutes are high enough.

Poor Foley has just one cap to his name and deserves more, given his consistent displays for Wolves in the Premier League.

Alas, another night of frustration is on the cards, with Coleman in reserve at right-back and a host of options on the right side of midfield. Continued exclusion is harsh on the 26-year-old, who always turns up and is worthy of further exposure to this level.

3 System change

Who mentioned Stephen Ireland? Actually, Trap did. He always seems to now, a progression from the days when he grew tired of journalists raising his name.

The context was Trapattoni's latest musings about changing his system from a rigid 4-4-2 to a flexible 4-5-1 when the occasion arises. Certainly, he talks about it a lot, without ever really going through with it.

He was tempted at the break when Russia were running rings around green shirts last month, but waited until the closing minutes when McGeady roamed behind Robbie Keane with Shane Long and Fahey on the flanks as Ireland mounted a late comeback.

He says he will try something similar tonight if Ireland are in a strong position against their visitors.

The issue is that while he feels Ireland would be naturally suited to the playmaking role, and also believes McCarthy should be able to operate there one day, it's not exactly a natural fit for McGeady. Life at Spartak Moscow is bringing about an improvement in the 24-year-old's aptitude, though.

"Maybe I wish to try this situation," said Trapattoni. "But I cannot change everything together when there are two or three or four young players in the team. The balance is not always the same."

Considering that Long and Walters have an ability to function in right-midfield on their CVs, then the possibility is there to alternate formations without making a host of changes.

Yet the suspicion is that if the game is evenly poised, the manager will stick with the tried and trusted for the majority.

Irish Independent

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