Monday 22 January 2018

Guessing games over as McClean gets the green light and McCarthy is forced into heartbreaking withdrawal

And so the guessing games are over. But then, this being the world of Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland, there will always be another.

James McCarthy's heartbreaking withdrawal from Trapattoni's Euro 2012 plans prompted a predictable quest for clarity in the aftermath of a familiarly garbled, semi-polyglot presentation.

The statement released on the stricken player's behalf by the FAI indicated that he had withdrawn his name from the selection process, without confirming that he would have been selected for either the main squad or the standby list.

Later, the manager said that he had indeed been intending to select McCarthy until told of his understandable decision to stay at home.

When later pressed to confirm whether that was indeed the case, the manager prevaricated through the medium of his press officer, refusing to confirm or deny whether McCarthy had, indeed, been slated to travel.


Last week, Trapattoni was already fully cognisant of McCarthy's circumstances when he met the media in Mullingar and delivered his curiously opaque reference to a player's "personal problems" that subsequently so engulfed the Twitterati.

Clearly, McCarthy was part of Trapattoni's 23, as anybody who witnessed the live internet stream of yesterday's press conference would have averred.

Sympathetically, Trapattoni chose not to express a view as to who may have benefited from this extraordinarily difficult set of circumstances, one unprecedented in his time at international managerial level, albeit a more occasional occurrence during his lengthy club career.

Once he had handled the situation with a compassion that is not so often publicly revealed, the professional pragmatist in the Italian then had to address the vacancy in his squad.

We may never know about McCarthy's present impact on the squad; his quality, as witnessed by his recent performances while operating under such severe emotional stress, ensures his future is guaranteed.

For now, though, another exciting, emerging talent in the Premiership, James McClean, appears to be the clear, unwitting beneficiary of McCarthy's personal travails. Given that Trapattoni was unlikely to alter the numerical balance of defenders and attackers, one of the midfield octet chosen would have inevitably missed out; the manager's stated preference for established players would have otherwise drawn a black line through McClean's name.

However, recent injury worries circulating around Stephen Hunt and Keith Fahey might have made either one of that duo susceptible to receiving the dreaded phone call.

Darron Gibson, too, may have been another player under threat as the other midfielders -- Keith Andrews, Glenn Whelan, Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady -- will all start the opening Euro 2012 encounter against Croatia on June 10.

Aside from solving this difficult dilemma, Trapattoni's decisions were entirely predictable and McClean's inclusion, notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstances, retains an element of enigmatic vigour with which to dampen the ardour of his fiercest critics.

Loyalty, and his devotion to the "systema", not surprisingly, underlined his selection criteria; any sops to a future including a difficult past -- Andy Reid, Stephen Ireland et al -- remain enigmatically hypothetical.

Trapattoni's commitment to involving players such as Seamus Coleman in the qualifying campaign for the next World Cup 2014 would have helped to dampen any emotional outbursts.

"The impression I got was not sad but a little bit surprised," was Trapattoni's generic explanation as to how the excluded players took their medicine.

"It's very important what they told me. They understood. I reminded them we would continue to follow them, they are young enough. In the future, they will be 90pc with us again. They thanked me for the call."

The standby players -- Darren Randolph, Paul McShane, Paul Green, Coleman and the ubiquitous Andy Keogh -- were politely told to postpone potential holidays.

"I said be careful, stay at home, pay attention because we can call immediately," he said, 10 years to the day after Mick McCarthy picked Ireland's last major tournament squad.

Trapattoni will hope that there will be no seismic withdrawals this time around, but fickle injuries may still intervene. "We have two games," he added, referring to the friendly games against Bosnia and Hungary to come. "I have fingers crossed no injuries but they know."

Of those receiving the good news, Trapattoni insisted that groin injury victims Hunt and Fahey had delivered guarantees of their full fitness; Coleman will be well advised to holiday in Burtonport rather the Barbados.

Trapattoni hasn't yet decided when he will submit his squad list to UEFA but, such was his enthusiasm yesterday, it is clear that the build-up to that opening encounter with Croatia has already begun in earnest.

With a key group of players either out of favour with their clubs, like Sean St Ledger, or recuperating from injury, such as Fahey, the manager is eager to begin preparations as quickly as possible.

A clutch of players -- Keiren Westwood, David Forde, St Ledger, Darren O'Dea, Kevin Foley, Gibson, Fahey, Hunt, McClean and Simon Cox -- will arrive in Dublin on May 17.

"We have two games against Bosnia and Hungary to complete our physical preparation for the finals and there are one or two players who I have said are in different areas of fitness.

"One or two players need rest. Jon Walters has done a lot of work this season and every day I pray for Glenn Whelan not to get injured. And when we start in our first game, we will start with the best team."

A bit like yesterday's squad, that first team will run along predictable lines.

Trapattoni may have been one of the first managers to unveil his hand ahead of Euro 2012, but nobody can proclaim it is an opening gambit.

The Italian does not gamble. Nor does he submit to luck.

"We must know what we are doing in each situation," he said. "Sometimes we wait and see what happens. If we press, we know in counter-attack there could be trouble.

"But if we wait, we can let another team play too much. It's an important balance. Our players need to know what will be the approach. We need to know what we are doing before the game and know when we can change our play."

Kick-off may be more than a month away, but the work has started already.

Irish Independent

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