Last chance for new boys to make case as Trap points to tried and trusted formula
THIS game was never really going to be about experimentation. The international football calendar made sure of that.
When the Irish players say their goodbyes this evening, they will do so knowing that the next time they meet as a group will be summertime, when the country is gripped by Euro 2012 fever. Shay Given expressed surprise at the lack of an international window between now and then, but the increased lobbying power of Europe's top clubs removed that possibility.
Back in 2002, the squad met up in February, March and April before gathering ahead of Japan and Korea, and in 1994 friendlies were also more frequent in the build-up, giving new faces a real chance to shake things up.
It's difficult now, even more so when you consider that Trapattoni worries that his players will forget their international habits when they return to their clubs. Long periods apart don't help, so when he gets them together for a one-off match, it's hardly surprising he picked his strongest available team for this clash with the Czech Republic.
The problem with getting sucked into talk about this game representing a last chance for Trapattoni to look at other available options is that there's an inherent assumption that he is unhappy with what he's got.
He is satisfied with the system that secured qualification, and trusts the players that achieved that goal. It would take absolutely exceptional circumstances to direct the 72-year-old from that. The issues with regard to this fixture revolve around honing the existing formula for eight days in June.
Trapattoni said yesterday if Ireland were a club side, he would have experimented more with his starting XI, and the context was speaking about his forward player. He says that Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle have developed an understanding that is natural, so they obviously still remain his front two. Nevertheless, Doyle's setback for this game does give Shane Long a chance to make a strong impression.
Remember, when Trapattoni was concerned about Doyle's wellbeing last September, he made the decision to pick Long instead for a vital qualifying match with Slovakia before injury intervened to rule out the West Brom man. It's been a frustrating winter for the Tipp native after a flying start to the campaign, and he does have the pace that can cause opposing teams trouble, particularly if Ireland are under the cosh and looking for an out ball.
He is capable of giving Trapattoni a headache if Doyle's form doesn't drastically improve between now and the end of this campaign -- although his equaliser for Wolves last weekend is, hopefully, a sign of better things to come.
MCCARTHY’S MIDFIELD MISSION
With Keith Fahey and Darron Gibson absent, an opportunity is available to try out James McCarthy in Trapattoni's favoured 4-4-2 system. In the past, the Irish boss viewed the Wigan man as a number 10, but he has played a deeper role for his club and Trapattoni has hinted that he might have revised that opinion, although it would be a stretch to suggest he is convinced the Glaswegian could offer a like-for-like service in place of Glenn Whelan or Keith Andrews.
Still, it would be interesting to see the 21-year-old be given substantial time on the park this evening rather than just a late cameo. His place in Poland is far from assured; he either needs Trapattoni to bring five central midfielders or drop Gibson or Fahey, so now is the perfect time to show an Irish audience what he is capable of.
KEANE COULD BE A MIDFIELDER IN POLAND
With no dramatic change in starting personnel, Trapattoni said yesterday he was determined to use Keane in a more withdrawn role. For a large part of his Irish career, the Tallaght man has operated on the shoulder of the last defender, looking to respond to flick-ons from a big man.
It will be different tonight. Trapattoni has used Keane in this role before, specifically to counter a numerical imbalance in the centre of the park when the opponents field three in the heart of midfield. In that respect it's an audition for the summer considering that Spain, Croatia and Italy are likely to hold the ball for long periods.
Keane enjoys the position and impressed there for Aston Villa, stating he has been watching Frank Lampard's ability to time his runs from a similar enough area of the park.
MCCLEAN NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING SPECIAL
Although he performed a U-turn with regard to involving the Sunderland winger in this game -- meaning it would be dangerous to assume he is not for turning -- Trapattoni was again speaking yesterday about the new faces being present with a view to the future rather than the big event in Poland this summer. He suggests that the initial 24-man squad will be the outline of his Euro 2012 plans.
"Maybe one more, maybe one less," he said, with respect to the field from which he will pick the final 23. First, we have to respect the players who contributed to qualifying," he said. "The other two young players (McClean and Shane Duffy), okay, tomorrow is a friendly game. Sure they can contribute in the future, but now we need to have the players with personality and condition, not the younger ones. Hunt deserves (to go), McGeady, Duff. This group deserves it. This group plays well."
The caveat he added was that if a regular got injured or one of the squad regulars was benched for the remainder of the campaign, then his view could be altered.
But it is McClean that can have the most influence on the thought process if he comes off the bench tonight to produce the power-packed display that has become the norm with Sunderland, while also adhering to Trapattoni's principles.
O’SHEA IS THE RIGHT MAN FOR FULL-BACK
The Waterford man has impressed at centre-half for Sunderland since the appointment of Martin O'Neill.
When he first emerged, the long term vision for O'Shea was that he would prove to be a top class centre-half. However, the best of his football for Man United came at right-back and it's a similar story with Ireland, although Trapattoni did partner O'Shea with Richard Dunne in his early competitive games.
He changed his mind in Bari, feeling that the Irish team benefited from O'Shea's distribution and height when placed in the right full position. Dunne's unavailability for this game presented a chance for Trapattoni to move O'Shea inside and perhaps look at Kevin Foley or even Seamus Coleman at right back.
Now, it's clear that Darren O'Dea is the first in line if either Dunne or St Ledger suffer misfortune before Poland.
Unless there is a crisis, O'Shea will be at right full against Croatia on June 10.