Saturday 24 March 2018

Euro 2012: Manager won't gamble on squad fitness

Republic of Ireland 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0
Stability key with emphasis on no more changes, says Dion Fanning

James McClean gets his shot in despite the attention of Miralem Pjanic
James McClean gets his shot in despite the attention of Miralem Pjanic

Ireland fly to Tuscany this morning, hoping to escape the microscopic examinations of the past week but knowing that things are only going to become more intense.

By the end of the first full week, some players had already become irritated by the questions they were asked by the media as part of the long build-up while the daily bulletins on injuries caused ripples of alarm.

When Saipan happened 10 years ago, one editor startled his reporters by wondering if they were missing out on some injury news amid the thousands upon thousands of words of Keane-McCarthy analysis. Without that seismic event this time, Ireland's injuries are being exhaustively examined.

"I don't think there are any worries within the camp. I don't think he'd be taking lads if he was thinking they'd be injured. Everyone's confident. It just takes a little time." Those were the words of Keith Fahey last week. Last night, cruelly, he was out of the squad.

Most players are always carrying injuries and many would probably be considered doubtful at some stage for their clubs each week, the stories were probably overblown. Yet it wasn't the media who put Shay Given on a plane last Thursday to see a specialist and it wasn't the pressmen who called Paul McShane into the squad.

The anxieties of the players had undoubtedly contributed too. They had got through the season and in between double training sessions, there wasn't anything else to do but think.

"You don't think about them when you're playing but when you're sitting in the hotel room, you do," Kevin Doyle said last week. "What a time to get injured now. I've spoken to a few lads about it. I don't like talking about it. I've had a few injuries in the last year or two, I've been through that. It would be a nightmare for anyone."

Doyle's good friend Shane Long and rival for a starting place will be managing his own condition. In January, it was discovered that he had Pars defect, a stress fracture in the lower vertebrae. He was, he said last week, "pain free" for the first time in a while and would continue to be as long as he put himself through a series of exercises before and after training.

Trapattoni had previously said he wouldn't take any extra players beyond the 23, now he will have to with Paul McShane travelling to Italy and Poland as he spends another week assessing his players' fitness.

Given will be the one who causes most concern. While Trapattoni was relieved that Richard Dunne was able to start yesterday's game, Given and John O' Shea must wait until Wednesday before they resume training.

The official line is that all the players will be fit for the Euros but Trapattoni must submit his final squad to UEFA on Tuesday and as it stands he will be including a number of players who are unable to train.

Kevin Foley and O'Shea are the outfield players who will cause concern.

McShane could yet be named in the squad on Tuesday if Trapattoni doesn't want to gamble on the fitness of several players. The manager's instinct is to stick with the players he named in his initial squad but he may not be happy with so many injuries among them, especially in defence.

Sean St Ledger's initial selection on Friday had surprised journalists who had been assured he was out of the game. It was slightly startling to see him again on the bench when the teamsheets arrived at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

Dunne was also something of a surprise selection yesterday with Trapattoni balancing the risk of playing him with a micro tear to his abdominal wall with his need for games, having missed most of Aston Villa's Premier League run-in. Yet his performance will have encouraged Trapattoni and St Ledger replaced him for the last 20 minutes.

Others will join the injured but, as Trapattoni remains committed to picking his familiar 11 (Ireland might even line out in squad numbers 1-11, a rarity in the modern game), they are likely to remain the only story.

For the players, they will try to break the monotony. Kevin Doyle was planning to pick up some books at the airport while others will bring box sets.

Trapattoni has forbidden his players to write newspaper columns and talking about football on Twitter will be frowned upon. Trapattoni was asked last week how he would relax away from the matches and the preparation. Trapattoni takes DVDs of matches on holiday (when he can be persuaded to take a holiday), spending a few hours at the beach before returning home to watch them so he was hardly going to reveal that he was bringing the first two series of Spiral with him to Montecatini. He will be watching DVDs, he said, DVDs of Ireland's opponents.

Trapattoni will have a week in Italy where he will have to receive many admirers. There they will understand him most of the time. The rest of the world are already walking away baffled. The journalist who attends a Trap press conference are, in the words of Liam Mackey, like an astronaut on a space station experiencing zero gravity for the first time.

If Trap is asked an abstract question, he provides abstract answers. When quizzed on Friday about Sepp Blatter's idea to abolish penalty shoot-outs, Trapattoni gave two complicated answers which touched on many issues, including Italy's game against South Korea in the 2002 World Cup and added, "I'm not satisfied because the referee is in jail in New York."

To those who didn't know the back story to the Italy-South Korea game and the performance of referee Byron Aldemar Moreno, which Trapattoni has been suspicious about for many years, this was baffling. For the rest of us, it was just more inconsequential theatre.

Those who are used to him can be bewildered as well as we were early in the week when he stated that many of the injured players 'will' play against Bosnia. It turned out he intended to say 'wished to' play, confusing, as he sometimes does, his English with his German.

The players understand him now or understand what he wants. Stephen Ward spoke about the drills last week and they will continue over in Tuscany.

Trap craves stability and continuity of selection. Of the 11 players who started the play-off in Paris, nine are, according to Trapattoni's comments on Friday, likely to start against Croatia. Aiden McGeady had contributed to that campaign but Liam Lawrence started ahead of him in Paris. Ward has taken the other spot, replacing Kevin Kilbane once Trapattoni could be sure he trusted him.

"You have to earn his trust," Ward said. "I've come into a back four that's really strong with Shay behind us. They made it really easy for me. The manager has everything down to a tee and everyone knows their jobs. You don't think the manager is waiting for me if I make a mistake but because he has pin-pointed everything, you know your job and where he wants you to be. That really helps you as a player. It shows how world-class he is a manager and a coach."

The time will drag for the next 10 days but not for Trapattoni. He was pursued by the FAI for these moments. He won't want to be derailed by a little detail.

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