Sunday 24 March 2019

Fahey class can solve midfield puzzle

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THERE are three games between now and Ireland's trip to Macedonia in June. Three chances for Giovanni Trapattoni to explore the full range of midfield options at his disposal.

It is the debate that won't go away, an issue which has pretty much been raised in the aftermath of every Ireland encounter since the Italian took charge, with the exception of one night in Paris.

Realistically, barring injuries, Glenn Whelan and Darron Gibson are in pole position to start the game in Skopje.

Certainly, Whelan will line-out if available; Trapattoni might feel that a Paul Green-style hustler and harrier would be better suited than Gibson to the away game but, unless Keith Andrews returns to full health, it seems likely that they will be the only characters in with a genuine chance of involvement in the engine room.

The only way that will change, is if some of the other options available make a huge impression in tomorrow's meeting with Uruguay and the Carling Nations Cup meetings with Scotland and Northern Ireland in May. They can only do that if they are given a full chance to demonstrate their ability.

Whelan and Gibson failed to truly impose themselves on the game on Saturday, losing the intensity that was prevalent in the opening minutes.

The former is capable of much better than his Saturday showing, while Gibson was pumped up for the occasion without finding the space that his manager believed would be available to him.

Even Liam Brady, who was otherwise trenchant in his support of Trapattoni in RTE's post-match reflection, acknowledged there was room for change in that department, with Keith Fahey in line for prominent involvement against Uruguay.

Fahey was given an audition at central midfield in the November friendly with Norway and did reasonably well, yet he was omitted from the final squad for last month's win over Wales before getting a late call and marking it with a goalscoring appearance from the bench.

On Saturday, he was assured in his short time on the pitch, intelligently keeping the ball as the minutes ticked down. In his youth, Fahey's defensive aptitude for a central midfield role was questioned, yet he's now far closer to the complete package. With Whelan likely to be rested for Uruguay, Fahey deserves a spin.

Ciaran Clark will be required at left-back tomorrow and that's probably his best chance of a regular berth in the team, but he's worth a try in front of the back-four sometime in May.

Marc Wilson is similarly versatile and has an athleticism that would be to the manager's liking. Gibson does need more games and should start tomorrow on that basis, but Wilson is worthy of half an hour minimum.

And then there's James McCarthy. He will be making his first Irish start tomorrow and Trapattoni says he's unsure in what position. With a dearth of striking options, there's a fair chance we might actually see a change of system, with McCarthy floating behind Shane Long.

Down the line, however, the 20-year-old should be given some time in central midfield in a 4-4-2. He bulked up physically during his recent injury lay-off, and has the technical nous to improve the distribution. In friendly games where there is nothing to lose, ambition is necessary.

Irish Independent

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