Deadline looming for Ireland's senior quartet
GIOVANNI Trapattoni expects senior quartet Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Damien Duff to continue with international football, but there is still confusion surrounding the players' intentions.
The Irish manager left them out of this week's friendly with Serbia so they could spend time with their families, and Dunne, who is rated the most important by Trapattoni, is sidelined with a groin problem that looks set to rule him out of next month's opening World Cup qualifier with Kazakhstan.
Trapattoni confirmed yesterday that he is set to name his experienced stars in the squad for that fixture, and insisted that the situation is 'clear.'
He said at the recent FAI AGM in Donegal that he would speak to the players in question to ascertain their attitude towards staying on. It's understood that subsequent contact has involved text messages as opposed to a firm discussion.
By naming them in the panel for the Kazakhstan match, the 73-year-old is effectively putting the ball in their court. It remains to be seen how that will go down with the players.
Considering it is only three weeks until the squad report to Dublin ahead of that arduous journey, the respective parties have a deadline looming.
Given was down in the dumps after his struggles at Euro 2012 and Trapattoni did suggest in Donegal that Keiren Westwood might be favoured in Kazakhstan regardless of the Aston Villa netminder's decision.
That stance appears to have changed, however, with the Italian stressing that all of the veterans will be important for the campaign ahead.
For now, minds turn to Belgrade, with Trapattoni predictably dealing with a weakened hand for an awkwardly-timed international window.
Kevin Doyle and Marc Wilson dropped out over the weekend. The former has suffered bruising that could lead to a blood clot if he flew, while the latter has picked up a viral infection.
Wilson's absence is a particular disappointment as this game offered a chance for the Stoke man to make a case for permanent inclusion after a lengthy exile. His unfortunate attendance record for friendly games will not aid his prospects. Ipswich's Damien Delaney has been called up to provide defensive cover.
Regular left-back Stephen Ward -- who might have been under threat from Wilson -- is a doubt with a groin problem. Keith Treacy is in a similar boat, and both will undergo scans today before a decision is made on whether they board the plane to Belgrade.
"We don't want to upset their clubs with the season starting on Saturday," said Trapattoni.
Last week, he lost Darron Gibson and then his intended replacement Wes Hoolahan. He also confirmed yesterday that a first call was extended to Hoolahan's Norwich colleague Anthony Pilkington who, in the past, had been slightly non-committal with regard to his international allegiance. Alas, the attacking midfielder is struggling with a hamstring complaint.
There would have been a lot more interest in this fixture if Hoolahan and Pilkington were in the shake-up. Instead, much of the attention will focus on James McCarthy and Trapattoni's tactics.
The two are intertwined, with the manager hinting that he might experiment with three central midfielders in a hybrid 4-3-3. McCarthy would be the focal point of that move, operating as a playmaker ahead of two holding players, with Aiden McGeady and James McClean supporting one central striker. But even as he spoke about the possibility, Trapattoni appeared to be having doubts.
"I have to speak with the players," he said. "We don't have much time to change the system, and we cannot change for the sake of changing.
"I say, probably, we may change, but we will also try and look for a result. I have an idea, and maybe we can adapt in the game from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. I couldn't go past 30 minutes (if the team was struggling badly with a new system)."
McCarthy's passing ability led Trapattoni to liken him to Michel Platini, which is lofty praise for the Wigan lad.
Of course, in the past, he has compared Robbie Keane to Francesco Totti when discussing his role as a No 10. You can't imagine Trapattoni fielding Platini and Totti in the same side so, come September, he may face a big call if McCarthy does the business this week.
Then again, we are no closer to knowing if his captain will be around to present that dilemma.
As the most seasoned member of this week's squad, John O'Shea will wear the armband in Serbia.