Monday 19 February 2018

Hoolahan and Long to face Greeks at half-empty stadium

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE FAI is not anticipating a large turnout for Wednesday's friendly with Greece, even though Giovanni Trapattoni is set to give fans' favourites Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long extended run-outs.

It's unclear, as yet, if they will start the game, but the manager is sticking by his assertion that Hoolahan will play a minimum of one half, while he also gave Long a strong mention as he ruminated over his striking options.

Trapattoni went to Wigan on Saturday to watch Long play for 68 minutes in West Brom's 2-1 victory, allaying fears that he would be unavailable due to an on-going hamstring problem.

The Tipperary native has been frustrated with his lack of game-time for Ireland in the context of his club form, and Trapattoni denies it is anything to do with their spat in Serbia in August.

Long told reporters he was fit to play after the manager cited an injury -- which the player had raised -- for leaving him out.

Trapattoni, who subsequently branded the striker's action as "idiotic", said: "I have never punished anyone. I asked him (in Serbia) 'how are you?'.

"Maybe after the shower, he said 'I am well' and strutted like a cockerel. But he is a very genuine person."

The Italian went on to praise the general improvement in the 25-year-old's play over the last 12 months.

"On Saturday, he recovered two or three balls back from behind the opponents, that is one of the situations (where he has improved).

"When our team looks for him, they have to understand that he can come and look for the ball -- not only wait for the long ball.

"We know that he can spring for the ball like a kangaroo.

"At the moment, he is fast, but he can have the opportunity to take the ball and pass."

Hoolahan, who was first called up to an Ireland squad 10 years ago for an away game in Greece, took part in a light training session in Malahide yesterday.

The Irish boss said he would consider starting him, while also referencing Kevin Doyle and Long in the same breath, and confirming that Ireland would operate with one striker when the ex-Shels man was on the pitch.

"He deserves this opportunity," Trapattoni said. "We choose two strikers because I think our team needs this to score goals, but it's right to give him this opportunity. We can play the game with this situation."

Aiden McGeady (foot injury) and Keith Fahey (flu) are both out of the game. Andy Keogh and Conor Clifford have been called up to replace them.

Trapattoni delivered a strong hint that Robbie Brady will start and is happy that the Manchester United youngster is furthering his education by going on loan to Hull.

He was less committal about the likelihood of James McClean being involved from the outset against the Greeks.

The FAI are primarily selling tickets for the lower tier of the ground, with the upper tier set to be populated only by existing season-ticket holders.

Irish Independent

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