Tuesday 21 November 2017

Fahey injury a reminder of football's crushing realities

Republic of Ireland 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0
Late withdrawal the only cloud on a perfect day, says Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

It was an otherwise perfect day of preparation for Ireland. A clean sheet, the unbeaten run extended, confidence increased and some excellent individual displays.

But last night's news that Keith Fahey is out of the squad brought home the crushing realities of life as a footballer. Heartache for him, but the opportunity of a lifetime for Paul Green.

Scan results on Fahey's groin revealed he would be unable to play any part in the Euros. His rise to this level has almost been as meteoric as James McClean's. A League of Ireland player with potential who transformed himself into an international player of substance, but a summer of disappointment is now ahead of him. For the rest of the squad, a reminder perhaps of how fortunate they are.

For once under Giovanni Trapattoni, yesterday was never about the result, but still the win was deserved. A single goal was enough, but in truth it could, and should, have been more. With yet another clean sheet for this team, it could hardly have gone more to script.

The inclusion of Richard Dunne was a surprise as he hadn't trained before Friday, but his 70 minutes on the pitch was much needed given his three-month lay-off. Paul McShane gave his best performance in a long time, and the concerns around Kevin Foley's fitness could yet see him make the squad.

McClean has yet to show any sign of nerves in his remarkable journey from where he was to where he is now. He has spoken of his aim to challenge for a place in the starting line-up, and though he began to tire as the second half wore on, he impressed on both sides of midfield. Trapattoni spoke of his shyness in Malahide last week but it is not evident once he takes to the field.

The starting line-up for the Croatia game is already clear in Trap's mind and, barring injuries, it will remain that way. He spoke last week of the need for all the squad to reach similar levels of fitness and sharpness over the next fortnight, and yesterday's use of players had that in mind. Six changes were made during the game. Other than Shane Long, it was the impact of Aiden McGeady which stood out the most.

Perhaps rising to the challenge set by McClean's emergence, McGeady looked excellent. Volleying against the post with his first touch, testing Asmir Begovic from distance and providing Jonathan Walters with the chance which came back off the crossbar. He supplied the cross for Long's goal and moments later he played Walters in, but Begovic made the save. He almost set up a second for Long in the final moments too.

Responding to the hype created around McClean, Trap has been telling us not to forget Duff and McGeady and yesterday McGeady reminded us why. Ireland were patient in possession, created several opportunities to score and were relatively comfortable in defence. It was a departure from what we have seen in the past and at just the right time.

The lap of honour afterwards was greeted enthusiastically. Robbie Keane said they had no intention of going to Poland to make up the numbers. It will be the greatest test for some of these players in their careers to date.

The notion they will be free of any pressure because they are the lowest seeds is simply not true. An expectation to win is a particular type of pressure, but it is not the only one. This is the first time the country has been to the Euros in 24 years and we don't know when it will happen again. International careers are defined by what happens in the finals of major tournaments. Being the underdogs for all three games doesn't change that.

The squad departs for Italy today and there are many positives. The majority of the players have been together for years and they have spoken in glowing terms about one another. That counts for a lot when you're away for a month.

The manager has specific ideas on how the game should be played, and the players are in no doubt as to what that is. The injury concerns should be cleared up before the Euros begin and knowing the starting line-up so far in advance allows the maximum time to prepare.

The quality of the three opponents remains daunting. But with the exception of Fahey's withdrawal, preparations could hardly be going better.

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