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Duff's return presents Trap with dilemma

SENTIMENT has no place in a manager's make-up, Giovanni Trapattoni made clear in his broken English at the Aviva Stadium on Friday.

He was addressing the issue of how Keith Fahey, who had effectively got the Irish team out of jail when he came on as a substitute in Armenia, wasn't even given a minute's playing time in his home town against lowly Andorra.

With much pointing to his head and crossing out of his heart, he indicated clearly that the manager can't allow sentiment -- or even that other emotion, gratitude -- to decide who he selects. There are always more important considerations.

This is good to know, but it might cause Damien Duff and Keith Andrews a few sleepless nights this week. Both players were first-choice regulars in the World Cup campaign and distinguished themselves in the play-off game in Paris. However, injury forced them out of consideration for the Armenia and Andorra games and, in their absence, Aiden McGeady and Paul Green have staked claims to their places.

Trapattoni addressed the Duff/McGeady issue, with words of praise for both players, and also for his other winger, Liam Lawrence.

"I was worried two weeks ago about Duff," he admitted, "but he played the last two games very well. I also saw McGeady against Andorra and also for (Spartak) Moscow in the Champions League and he played very, very well. Before he go I thought it was not the country for him, because of the weather, etc, but I have to take it back because he plays with confidence and shows us."

Trap also noted that Lawrence had been scoring recently, and then made the point that "we have two games, and at home we must look at the wing" to cause the Russians problems.

Provided Duff is fit to play, having left the field early against West Ham yesterday, it seems that the manager will hold either he or McGeady on stand-by as an impact sub to keep the pressure on the Russian defence when his first choice has run his race.

Asked whether Ireland were going into the game as favourites, Trapattoni conceded: "No, we're not favourites but it's an opportunity to win."

He then adopted his animated role, reminding us that he played against greats like Pele and Eusebio and he was "only Trapattoni, but I won" because he went on the field and looked the player in the eye and said "I am as good as him."

And he made it clear that this is what he expects from his own squad. The Russians may have the star names like Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko, but the Irish squad has good quality and the "personality" to play to win.

On the tactics to be employed, he said: "I don't know which tactics he (Dick Advocaat) will use. It will depend on what he thinks of our team. But after 10 minutes I can see immediately." In this situation, he emphasised, "we have to show our belief (in our system)."

Craig Levein, the Scottish manager, who was at the Aviva for the launch of the Carling Cup, had high praise for the Irish players he had worked with in England and Scotland. "Their attitude is fantastic," he said. "I really took to those guys and all of them did a great job for me."

Only one of those players has been in the Irish squad, Noel Hunt, who is just returning from injury, and Levein said: "He was brilliant for me and brilliant in the dressing room -- and I got a good price for him from Reading."

These positive vibes about the Irish are welcome, but Levein also threw in a word of caution: "To be successful, your players need to be playing at the top level week in and week out and to get to the top level is extremely difficult. In Scotland, we have 60 players in the Championship and only 12 in the Premier League."

Levein thus touched on a subject which must be causing Trapattoni some worry, especially as it concerns Robbie Keane, who has had minimal playing time with Tottenham this season.

When the subject of Ireland's propensity to draw with the big teams was raised, Trapattoni had mentioned the chances which had been created -- against Italy, France, Bulgaria -- but hadn't been put away. "We must continue to create those chances," he said, "and then who knows?"

Who knows is right -- but we'd all feel a lot more confident if Keane was playing and scoring on a more regular basis.

Sunday Independent