McCarthy left out in cold as Ireland manager teaches young gun harsh lesson ahead of Argentina clash
RECENT history suggests that it is unwise to miss a date with Giovanni Trapattoni unless you have exceptional reasons. James McCarthy learned that lesson the hard way yesterday.
The highly rated Wigan teenager, who made his eagerly awaited Ireland debut against Brazil in March, was subsequently absent from the end-of-season training camp and the friendlies with Algeria and Paraguay due to fatigue.
He did drop in to Malahide for discussions with medical staff about various knocks that he was carrying, with his club manager Roberto Martinez worried that the rising star risked difficulties if his season was extended.
It's a chain of events which appears to have cost McCarthy the chance to be prominently involved in the senior squad for the beginning of the Euro 2012 qualifiers in September, after he missed out on the 28-man panel named by the Italian for the Aviva Stadium showdown with Argentina in a fortnight's time.
In his absence, Paul Green and Keith Fahey came into the fold and won their way into Trapattoni's affections, with the latter effectively included ahead of 19-year-old Glaswegian McCarthy, as he can operate in both a central and wide role. It was the Birmingham star which the Irish boss referred to when he put the decision to omit McCarthy into context.
"Let's say you're Fahey," he said. "You came the last time and you played well. Now, of course, I want you to show me again that you can play well.
"If I don't call you and call McCarthy, who was tired the last time, it's not fair. I need this step by step, and it's possible to build."
Trapattoni says he will continue to monitor the Wigan star, who will be included for Noel King's Irish U-21 game against Estonia on August 10.
Significantly, King also requested the services of Manchester City's Greg Cunningham and Celtic's Cillian Sheridan. He was told that the former is needed by the senior team for the entirety of their gathering, while Sheridan -- whose mooted switch to CSKA Sofia came as a surprise to Trapattoni -- is included in the senior panel, but could yet end up back with his age group.
There is no grey area with McCarthy, however, which is a surprising development given his outstanding club displays and the praise showered upon him by senior management.
Andy Reid and Lee Carsley suffered when they failed to show for Trapattoni's first training camp in the Algarve in the summer of 2008, with Glenn Whelan seizing his moment. The previously unheralded Green, who plies his trade with Derby, and Fahey have benefited this time around.
Meanwhile, Marc Wilson and Keith Treacy, who both had clearly defined injury problems that excluded them from the May gathering, are given the opportunity to make an impression.
"I'm not forgetting," continued Trapattoni, when a few other absentees were mentioned. "I don't forget Seamus Coleman or (Stephen) Ward (another who missed May because of a setback)."
Brian Murphy, Eddie Nolan, Anthony Stokes and Leon Best are left out, though, despite reporting for duty. Best, who flew up the queue last autumn and even figured in the competitive games with France and Italy, was desperately disappointing in the training games at Gannon Park and is excluded, with Caleb Folan back in the picture.
The Irish boss watched this summer's World Cup in South Africa with interest and, of course, a large dose of regret. While the French and Italians faltered on the greatest stage, he believes that his group of players would have gone further in the competition, particularly given the improvement that was obvious in the comfortable victories over Algeria and Paraguay.
"I was confident we could go to the last 16 or the quarter-finals," he said. "With our mentality and the way we play, it would have allowed us to go further than the first rounds.
"France, I thought that every player was playing for themselves individually. That was my impression. There is no harmony among the players. Without that, it's not a team. Paraguay showed us what can be done."
While Fabio Capello has been criticised in England for sticking rigidly with the 4-4-2 formation also deployed by Ireland, a tournament which was dominated by teams operating a 4-2-3-1 system hasn't convinced the gaffer that a change in his system is likely.
In the past, he had spoken of a desire to dabble with one up front, yet the development of Kevin Doyle and the strengthening of his partnership with Robbie Keane has removed that curiosity. Instead, he plans to stick with the same modus operandi.
"When you play with one striker, you need a team that is able to grow with the ball," he said. "Spain, it was good, because they score a goal. The problem is not 4-4-2, the problem is the players. It is about mentality."
Certainly, he attributes Argentina's ultimate collapse to an issue of attitude. He shied away from overtly criticising Diego Maradona, while drawing a comparison between the work rate of the forward players in Jose Mourinho's all-conquering Inter Milan side and the vaunted attackers who represented the South Americans in the finals.
Trapattoni, speaking before last night's sacking of Maradona, regaled his audience with delightful tales of encountering the 49-year-old during his stint with Napoli.
He had tried to bring the playmaker to Juventus a few years previously, but failed to move quickly enough and when Maradona arrived in Naples via Barcelona, it contributed to the shift of power away from the Old Lady.
"He was a unique player, not just because of his abilities, but because of his private life," he said. "But despite his private life, the team welcomed him and accepted the situation.
"He would come on to the pitch on Sunday morning, not Saturday with the team.
"The players understood that, but it was shocking for other teams, difficult to accept that he could come whenever he wanted. If Napoli hadn't accepted him as a person, they would never have won anything."
For special players, a different set of rules often exists. And Maradona was really special. Comparative mere mortals will never be afforded such privilege. On Trapattoni's beat, out of sight is only a short hop away from out of mind.
Ireland (v Argentina , August 11) -- Shay Given (Man City); Keiren Westwood (Coventry); Joe Murphy (Scunthorpe Utd); John O'Shea (Man Utd); Richard Dunne (A Villa); Sean St Ledger (Preston NE); Greg Cunningham (Man City); Kevin Foley (Wolves); Marc Wilson (Portsmouth), Stephen Kelly (Fulham); Paul McShane (Hull); Darren O'Dea (Celtic); Kevin Kilbane (Hull); Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rvs); Glenn Whelan (Stoke City); Darron Gibson (Man Utd); Paul Green (Derby); Liam Lawrence (Stoke City); Aiden McGeady (Celtic); Andy Keogh (Wolves); Damien Duff (Fulham); Keith Fahey (Birmingham City); Keith Treacy (Preston NE); Cillian Sheridan (Celtic); Robbie Keane (Tottenham); Kevin Doyle (Wolves); Caleb Folan (Hull); Shane Long (Reading)
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