Wednesday 13 December 2017

Perfect time for Trap to find some answers

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WHEN Thierry Henry's hand helped break Irish hearts on that infamous night in Paris, the football world united in sympathy for Giovanni Trapattoni's side, rallying against an injustice that challenged hackneyed references to the luck of the Irish.

WHEN Thierry Henry's hand helped break Irish hearts on that infamous night in Paris, the football world united in sympathy for Giovanni Trapattoni's side, rallying against an injustice that challenged hackneyed references to the luck of the Irish.

In one part of the world, however, they were entitled to feel otherwise. Georgia, who are tomorrow's opponents at Lansdowne Road, twice encountered the aforementioned luck in the group stages of the World Cup campaign and they didn't enjoy it very much.

The genesis of this bizarre Sunday encounter is the decision by FIFA – influenced by FAI lobbying – to move Trapattoni's first game in charge of Ireland in September 2008 from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to the German city of Mainz, on the basis of political instability in the former Soviet state that had pretty much cleared up by the time the match date came around.

It left a sour taste in Georgian mouths that intensified when Ireland enjoyed a comfortable success in a 'neutral' venue dominated by green jerseys.

Their mood didn't improve the following February when they led for 73 minutes at Croke Park before an atrocious refereeing decision gifted Ireland a penalty that Robbie Keane converted, thus turning the tide towards a home victory delivered by another goal from the skipper five minutes later.


Behind the scenes, the Georgians kept in contact with the FAI about the rescheduling of the original game, with this weekend's fixture coming about as part of the bridge-building process.

To Irish eyes, the Trapattoni era was fresh and new in 2008; the German trip is where a guitar-playing Andy Reid incurred the wrath of a manager who, it seemed, had little time for the footballer's style of play anyway.

Casting an eye over the teams then and now, it is clear that while the identities of those involved may have changed, many of the debates are still the same.

For this friendly, the hope was that room could be found for the creative talents of Wes Hoolahan, who does not fit into the rigid 4-4-2 plan that became a fixture once it worked in Mainz.

At the time, it was largely welcomed, as it promised a solidity that provided the basis of the argument for retaining Trapattoni into the Euro 2012 campaign. Poland rattled that confidence and the calls for change grew louder from there.

It has happened slowly and Trapattoni had suggested this will be the most 'experimental' game of the four-game summer series.

However, Marco Tardelli gave the impression yesterday that the usual system would apply, which would remove some intrigue from a fixture which could still prove useful in certain areas.

With Glenn Whelan in line for a rest, and James McCarthy suspended for next weekend's game with the Faroes, there is competition for places in central midfield.

With regard to the Faroes, the likelihood is that Jeff Hendrick and David Meyler will compete for the slot next to Whelan.

Meyler turned 24 on Wednesday but the younger man, Hendrick, was sent into the fray at Wembley. Considering Hull man Meyler made his Ireland debut last September, it appears that Trapattoni has taken more of a shine to the new boy from Derby, with his cameo in the February success over Poland fresh in the mind.

And Tardelli has indicated it could be a game for the St Kevin's Boys product. Meyler gave away a few soft frees in his debut against Oman last September, yet he has boundless energy and an ability to get forward.

Hendrick and Meyler were on the same team in Friday training and they have a target to aim for.

Richard Dunne will be in the spotlight after his long spell on the sidelines, with confirmation that he will feature at some point.

With John O'Shea rested, he could partner Sean St Ledger from the outset, yet that is a decision that management were set to deliberate overnight.

This is a hugely significant game for Dunne, with potential suitors sure to be checking in to see if he has truly shaken off the groin problem that has ruined his football life since Euro 2012.

Trapattoni will be scrutinising his movement carefully too. He says there will always be a place for Dunne in his plans, but after relocating John O'Shea into central defence to make room for Seamus Coleman at right-back, he will eventually have to decide if a Dunne-O'Shea partnership has the mobility to cope with some of the pacier teams in Ireland's World Cup qualifying group.

It appears that the call on Robbie Keane's participation will have a significant knock-on impact for two other Dubliners keen to make their play.

Keane will join Shay Given on 125 caps if he features. Stephen Quinn, on the other hand, is looking for a first cap, and Hoolahan a first start.

They both require a formation switch to figure in their favoured roles at club level. Quinn thrived on the left side of a central midfield three at Hull this term, while Hoolahan is best suited to an attacking midfield role behind a central striker.

If Trapattoni goes to a 4-5-1 at some point, then this duo should benefit, although the reality is that they are auditioning for no more than the role of impact sub come September.

Goalkeeping matters

Keiren Westwood is expected to start, a rare outing for the Sunderland 'keeper who was the heir to Shay Given's throne before abdicating that responsibility by failing to secure a move away from his employers in January.

David Forde has stepped in and performed extremely well, and he fully deserves to keep the shirt for September.

The number two spot could be up for grabs as Westwood may have to worry about Darren Randolph now that the 26-year-old has put pen to paper on a summer switch to Birmingham. The latter deserves a half after numerous call-ups.

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