Reasons to be fearful
PERFECT weather in Malahide, but the storm clouds continue to gather over Giovanni Trapattoni's defensive generals.
Suddenly, Saturday's warm-up friendly with Bosnia & Herzegovina is beginning to look like a nuisance instead of helpful preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.
Of course, the wide players and attackers that are keen to make an impression will view that as a nonsense statement. For them, it's a big deal.
It's at the other end of the park where the problems are mounting, however. Four of Trapattoni's favoured back five -- if you include Shay Given -- are carrying issues that could force them to miss the Bosnian encounter and possibly beyond. The manager wanted to use the Lansdowne Road test as relevant practice for the Euro 2012 opener with Croatia, a game where the Irish rearguard are certain to be key to the outcome.
Now, it's more a case of making sure that nobody is risked unnecessarily, and all bodies are present and correct on Sunday morning when the plane takes off for the training camp in Montecatini.
There could be an extra man on the flight in the context of this week's developments, with Paul McShane called up from the standby list to make up the numbers for the weekend.
As it stands, Ireland only have three fit defenders: Darren O'Dea, Stephen Kelly and Stephen Ward. If concerns remain over the others, McShane will be brought to Montecatini. And the Wicklow man has been told that he could yet make the travelling party to Poland if one of the walking wounded is incapable of breaking into a run.
Reasons to be fearful
Spain have lost two of their key men, Carles Puyol and David Villa, while Trapattoni still believes that he will have his strongest selection available for the Croatian game. But then, Spain have quality options to replace their men, whereas Trapattoni cannot afford to lose the big names that are experiencing difficulty. Given and Richard Dunne spent time in the gym yesterday before walking back to the team hotel in Portmarnock.
Their respective situations are the big worry. In truth, they are irreplaceable. Given will travel to London today to visit a knee specialist that he has visited before.
The FAI were keen to stress that it was a precaution in the missive they sent out to reveal the news. But that's before the specialist takes a look at the Donegal man. Trapattoni will be praying that the expert's second opinion backs up the Irish confidence.
Dunne has suffered a micro-tear in his lower abdominal wall. He will be rested until whenever is necessary, and there is general confidence that he will be fine for the Euros.
But the last thing the Dubliner wants to be doing is resting after three months on the sidelines with a broken collarbone.
He acknowledged last week that he could do with a few more games before Poland, considering that he was only involved in the tail end of Aston Villa's season.
Dunne is a player who can take a while to get into his stride when he's on the comeback trail. Admittedly, his comeback game against West Brom went well, but he was caught out on a couple of occasions by a slicker Spurs outfit.
Ireland's best player in qualifying would benefit from at least another 90 minutes.
Wrong side of
Sean St Ledger arrived in Malahide in good nick, but woke yesterday with a groin problem.
"He needs two/three/four days, but he don't play against Bosnia," said assistant manager Marco Tardelli, who had far more to talk about than he did earlier in the week.
St Ledger's predicament makes the Dunne situation worse. For the game in Macedonia last June, when Dunne was suspended, Trapattoni drafted John O'Shea into the central defensive department to provide experience.
That Plan B cannot really be considered with a question mark lingering over O'Shea. The Waterford man is still on the easy list with the ankle injury that he exacerbated in an ill-advised outing for Sunderland against Manchester United on the final day of the Premier League season.
With Kevin Foley also in the gym yesterday with his hamstring complaint, a glut of right-back options was reduced to just Stephen Kelly and the Fulham man could yet be required in the centre of defence. Hence the call to McShane.
The much-maligned McShane surprisingly fell out of favour with the manager over the last year. Last June, he skippered the side which shocked Italy in Liege, but another frustrating season at club level has done little for his standing.
He is popular within the dressing-room and there was sympathy when he missed the squad for the Czech game in February, a move which effectively sealed his Euro 2012 fate... Or so it seemed.
His ability to cover two positions helps; Tardelli also mentioned Damien Delaney as an option before McShane was confirmed. Ipswich defender Delaney can fill in at left-back, a position where Ireland are light.
The elephant in the room here is Trapattoni's view of Marc Wilson and Ciaran Clark. While McShane and Delaney know the system, they ply their trade in the Championship. Wilson and Clark have impressed at the highest level and the former has experience across the back four.
Clark is also a versatile performer. Trapattoni did call them both when the squad was named to say they were in his mind for the future; in a month's time people could be asking why that duo weren't the back-up plan for the present.
Tardelli hinted that McShane has a chance of going to Poland now.
"If the player comes here because we have many players injured, we may need him in Montecatini. We don't want a player to come with us to Italy and not to the finals, but it is possible. We know we can change when we go to Poland, but we don't think about this."
Unlike 10 years ago, when Roy Keane departed the picture, and it was too late to summon Colin Healy, Trapattoni can change his squad up until the eve of the Croatia game in case of a setback.
He sends an initial list to UEFA next Tuesday and Foley must show he is fine before then or else the 73-year-old could be tempted to bring McShane.
The plus side is that Robbie Keane, who arrived with a hamstring problem, is progressing in the right direction. He has been involved in training and is showing signs that he will be capable of featuring on Saturday.
Shane Long and Jonathan Walters are also on the right track, so the boss should be able to assess the range of characters in the front line.
Keith Fahey has also responded well to treatment and will battle with Darron Gibson to push Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews.
Indeed, with Stephen Hunt bristling at the attention being afforded to James McClean, and the Derry man keen to prove he can dislodge Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady, there is a depth of options and the right kind of intrigue in the attacking areas.
They need a foundation to thrive, though, and right now the base is more brittle than Trapattoni could ever have envisaged at this crucial stage of preparations.