Daniel McDonnell: Door starting to close on Trapattoni's 'wardrobe'
THE two-year anniversary of the miracle of Moscow is approaching. September 6, 2011 will go down in Irish football history as the night that Richard Dunne, in a one-man show of strength, kept Russia at bay.
On September 6, 2013, Ireland will host Sweden at the Aviva Stadium, and it could also represent a significant landmark in Dunne's career for the wrong reasons. That's because, listening to Giovanni Trapattoni last week, you were left with the impression that the Italian isn't entirely sure that he needs his rock any more.
Unequivocal statements have never quite been Trapattoni's friend. This is a man who can take a routine tactical query and toss it back in a 500-word package without actually answering the question. But with Dunne, there is rarely ambiguity.
Speaking at the start of the year, when the old warhorse was engaged in a stop-start battle with his groin injury to make the March double header with Sweden and Austria, the Ireland manager made it perfectly clear that the Dubliner was the man he wanted to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
"It is important that we have Richard," Trapattoni asserted. "He said to me, 'I could be ready in two weeks' (February), I said 'Be careful, don't rush it, because we need you in this game'."
Dunne never made it back, of course. His season was over. Yet Ireland went to Stockholm with a defence that comprised Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark and Marc Wilson and managed to keep a clean sheet, containing 'Ibra' in the process. That quartet started in Cardiff last Wednesday and their gaffer suggested afterwards he would be perfectly happy to deploy them again for the return fixture with the Swedes.
He speaks differently of Dunne now; there was a point where he seemed terrified about the prospect of life without him. When the 33-year-old was mentioned in Wales, however, Trapattoni was keen to stress that he has plenty of options if the player he once described as a 'wardrobe' failed to get a run of games under his belt to prove his wellbeing. Last month, he even dropped Dunne into the dreaded, "we continue to follow him" category, a group of exiles that includes Andy Reid, the long-since retired Lee Carsley and recent additions Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle.
Just as Trapattoni seemed to be talking as though he was planning without Dunne, the QPR teamsheet for Saturday revealed that he would be making his first league appearance since before the Euros, and a clean sheet followed in a 1-0 win over Mick McCarthy's Ipswich. By all accounts, while there were a few signs of rustiness, Dunne produced a solid display, showing the leadership qualities that make him such a treasured asset.
The problem for Trapattoni is accommodating him. He consistently stresses the value of balance, and liked the Dunne/Sean St Ledger partnership because the former could act as the 'stopper' while the latter could take on the running and marking responsibilities.
The new union between O'Shea and Clark is built on a similar principle. Clark still has doubters, fuelled by his errors in the Dublin draw with Austria, and the natural assumption is that he would step aside if Dunne was deemed to be 100pc ready. Alas, after the combination of O'Shea and Darren O'Dea was brutally exposed for pace in the drubbing at the hands of Germany, Trapattoni made noises about always requiring a defender who can, in his words, "go quickly".
A Dunne/O'Shea combination could pose problems in that regard, whereas Clark fits in with the injection of youth since that turbulent week. O'Shea is not under threat, with Trapattoni a firm believer, and if the manager stays true to his conviction that Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson are the future as full-backs, the Waterford man is a lock for the teamsheet at centre-half. It presents management with a huge dilemma about the identity of the second name.
One of the big mistakes he made in Poland was leaning towards experience and reputation even if it didn't fit the shape of his team, hence the selection of Robbie Keane as the lone striker in the 4-5-1 v Spain, a role that palpably didn't suit the skipper.
Nobody who was present on that epic night in the Luzhniki Stadium could ever have imagined a scenario where Dunne was surplus to requirements. The anniversary might see it come to pass.
Carroll making waves after low-key move across the water
SOME of the most successful exports from the League of Ireland in recent years have left with very little fanfare, and Jake Carroll (right) is on course to join that category.
The summer departure from St Patrick's Athletic, who was on the bench in the early stages of this Airtricity League season, has already broken into the side at Huddersfield and played a full part in their Championship win at Millwall on Saturday.
Carroll, the classic late developer, is a versatile athlete, an all-rounder with the physicality to immediately adapt to life in a gruelling division.
He commanded few headlines at Inchicore last year, while the technically gifted Chris Forrester understandably hogged attention.
English clubs continue to have reservations about Forrester's slight frame, however, querying whether he is up to the demands of coming straight into first-team football – which is what Championship outfits operating with smaller squads are now looking for when they come shopping in Ireland.
Forrester still has plenty of time on his side but he needs a patient manager willing to gamble on his prodigious talent to get his big switch. The Wes Hoolahan comparisons may well extend to the length of time it takes for his major breakthrough.
ZAYED RACIST ABUSE A STAIN ON OUR LEAGUE
"Disgusting, embarrassing and sad people."
Eamon Zayed summed it up best when he described his disappointment at comments aimed in his direction from the stands after Shamrock Rovers suffered defeat to Bohemians at Dalymount Park on Friday. Zayed (above), a Libyan international, alleged that racist comments were made by a small number of home fans celebrating their victory.
These stories sadly tend to veer into claim and counter-claim territory but there is no denying that – across Irish sport – racism is a problem that still needs solving.
Friday night was a positive one for the League of Ireland, with big crowds at the crucial games and plenty of drama. Amid the ongoing debate about changing the perception of the league, a few morons are capable of causing a lot of damage.