Wednesday 24 January 2018

Injury forces Fahey out as Ireland begin Euro odyssey

Republic of Ireland 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0

Shane Long celebrates after scoring
the only goal of the game as Ireland
beat Bosnia & Herzegovina in
Lansdowne Road yesterday.
Shane Long celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game as Ireland beat Bosnia & Herzegovina in Lansdowne Road yesterday.


On the way to Lansdowne Road yesterday, it was as if Ireland had returned to an Age of Innocence. On a beautiful day, as they always were in the summer of memory, it could have been 1988 and the final game before the European Championships.

By last night, the carnival had ended for one player. Keith Fahey's persistent groin problem flared up in the warm-up to yesterday's game and a scan revealed that he wouldn't recover in time for the European Championships.

For a player whose career had been a testament to persistence and hard work, it was devastating news. Fahey went to England as a teenager, returned to Ireland and made it at St Pat's before heading back to Birmingham and blossoming in English football.

He scored the winning goal in Ireland's opening match in Armenia, a victory that grew in significance as the campaign unfolded. Trapattoni too had grown to trust him. Paul Green, a Trap favourite, has been called in from the stand-by list to replace him.

Fahey missed the play-offs with Birmingham with a groin problem but on Thursday had indicated that he was back to fitness and had taken a full part in training the past two days. However he felt uncertain in the warm-up yesterday and the scan results showed that his groin problem was persisting and the player agreed with the conclusion that he wouldn't be fit for the Euros.

The news mattered more than the victory which came through a Shane Long header 14 minutes from the end of a game in which avoiding injury was the objective.

Trapattoni will submit his squad to UEFA on Tuesday and while Green should be the only difference to the squad named at the start of the month, Trapattoni can still make more changes.

Paul McShane is accompanying the squad to Italy and Poland, Trapattoni confirmed, "unless he wants to go on holiday." McShane won't.

The main injury concerns among the players remaining are Shay Given and John O' Shea who won't start training until Wednesday.

Trapattoni changed his team for yesterday's game after a night's sleep which was fitful. He woke up and decided to replace Sean St Ledger with Darren O'Dea. Trapattoni will have been heartened by the performance of Richard Dunne, who had been another injury concern, but who was strong in every challenge.

Beforehand, James McClean had been the main individual draw. He played 90 minutes and for the first half, was the most dangerous player on the pitch.

"I think in the first half he play very well. He needed to gain the confidence of the other players." Trapattoni said. "In the second half he went a little bit down, he was running too much and he was a little bit tired."

If McClean dominated the first half, Aiden McGeady took over for the second. He had defended his record and pointed to his assists last week and he gave a sparkling 45-minute display yesterday to underline his point.

"When we arrive here McGeady was already a good player but now there is a confidence in his play. He plays in a different country and he is always improving," Trapattoni said.

On Friday Trapattoni said he will pick his usual side for the game against Croatia in a fortnight's time. McClean's arrival threatens some of them but it has energised them too.

McGeady would resent any suggestion that he has responded to the competition but when he replaced Damien Duff at half-time, he was magnificent, finding space, shooting with purpose, hitting the post and showing an awareness and vision that hasn't always been there.

McGeady and McClean delighted the crowd in the second half, concealing the irrelevance of a game which had been notable early on for some hefty early challenges from Boris Pandza on Robbie Keane and the strange decision not to award a penalty when Glenn Whelan was brought down by his Stoke team-mate Asmir Begovic.

The summoning of McShane had been the main cause of concern for Ireland fans over recent days. He wore the '24' jersey, a reminder he remains on the fringes but he was whole-hearted as always and had one typical frantic surge forward which ended with an Irish corner.

He is now part of the travelling party but with a couple of defenders still not in training, he may yet be part of the 23.

Ireland finished the game strongly, surprising given the need to avoid injury and the six substitutions Trapattoni made in the second half. Ireland created plenty of chances before McGeady crossed for Ireland's goal which Long headed in calmly.

Ireland have a training game in Italy this week before the final friendly in Budapest next Monday but the team will just want to get through them.

They fly to Italy this morning and the players know that in Tuscany they will begin to feel they are playing at a major tournament. Euro 2012 will be days away.

One journalist asked Trap after yesterday's game if he had considered staying at home because the weather was so good in Ireland. He is looking forward to Italy and the weather would be perfect for what they want, before he recalled a game in Brazil against Santos in 45 degrees. "I was melting like a candle."

In 1988, the word 'Euro' meant nothing except the precursor to good times. Now the word causes a spike of anxiety. Sport offers the opportunity to escape.

The Age of Innocence is over. We know too much. The last time Ireland won their final home game before a tournament was in 1988. That was the only tournament when Ireland failed to get out of their group. Ireland has a past now and we can't escape it.

Nobody can claim the future will be glorious but for the Irish football team at least, there is the wicked thing called hope.

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