Euro 2012: The clock is ticking for Trapattoni's men
19 days of training
The road to Euro 2012 starts here...
AND so it begins. In a week when many Irish eyes are trained on the rugby, and football minds are consumed by the Champions League and events at Anfield, Giovanni Trapattoni's Euro 2012 preparations kicked off in Malahide yesterday.
It was a low-profile affair, with the security guards and protective barriers a superfluous presence. For now, the rest of the country goes about its business normally. The reality is that the fervour will take grip when the squad are on foreign shores.
So, for the 10 players that went through their paces at Gannon Park, the walk from the training ground to the bus was brief. On a busy day, the autograph hunters would halt the progress but there were only a handful present. Perhaps, like the senior players, they are resting up before the serious business.
Still, Giovanni Trapattoni sees the value in this exercise. Of the 10 players present yesterday -- David Forde, Keiren Westwood, Sean St Ledger, Darren O'Dea, Kevin Foley, Keith Fahey, Darron Gibson, Simon Cox, Stephen Hunt and James McClean -- only St Ledger is certain to start the opener with Croatia on June 10 in Poznan.
If the team was picked tomorrow, the others would be on the bench. But Trapattoni has previous when it comes to being swayed by events on the training ground. For a fresh face like McClean, in particular, this was a chance to make a case for inclusion.
"There are two or three players new with us, like McClean," said Trapattoni. "He has played well, we have seen this many times, but we have a system.
"Our solution is different to his club. With this exercise this week, he can understand."
However, with Fahey and Foley doing separate running work due to their injury problems, there are limitations with a small group. Westwood and Forde were outfield taking part in a passing drill towards the end of the first session.
Nevertheless, in certain positions there is reason to believe that a strong performance in training could make an impression. Trapattoni acknowledged that next week he will be having a close look at certain players who have suffered long seasons. He mentioned the Wolves contingent -- particularly Stephen Ward and Kevin Doyle.
The latter has struggled and there is competition in the striking ranks with Simon Cox, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long knocking on the door, so Doyle will need to show up well in the friendlies against Bosnia and Hungary.
"There are players who are very, very tired," said Trapattoni. "I have the duty to give them morale and help them from this situation, but I am not kamikaze. Do you understand?"
There'll be an abundance of Trapattoni statements to dissect over the next three and a half weeks. The players will hear plenty of that, as well as plenty of each other. Cox equated Wednesday's gathering in the team's Portmarnock hotel with the first day in the 'Big Brother' house.
Cox, who rooms with Sean St Ledger, knows there is a danger of cabin fever setting in. "It'll be all smiley faces and everyone trying to get on with each other for the first few weeks and, as soon as someone has a bit of a chirp up... it might get out of hand, but that's something that we hope doesn't happen. We'll just deal with it," he grinned.
He only had a two-day break after West Brom's concluding Premier League fixture at the weekend, but then he's spent far too long on his backside during the season.
The identity of Roy Hodgson's successor may determine his next move, although the striker is open to other offers. Swansea have been mentioned.
"They're a good footballing side with a top manager; I've worked under Brendan (Rodgers) before," he said.
With Ireland in camp for at least the next month, potential suitors should at least know where to find him.