Sport Soccer

Sunday 18 February 2018

Pilkington the pick of Trap’s faces for future

FOURTEEN weeks have passed since that tumultuous week in October when Giovanni Trapattoni teetered on the brink, but ultimately kept his footing.

Time has helped condemn that infamous 6-1 defeat to Germany to memory, but when he returns to theses shores early next month to get his show back on the road, the Italian will know that only results will heal the wounds that were opened at Lansdowne Road that night.

Victory over the Faroe Islands may have got qualification back on track to some extent, but the dull defeat to Greece in November did little to improve the mood around the camp.

Much of the narrative surrounding the Irish team since the disappointment of last summer's European Championships has focused on the players who are no longer there, but in choosing to politely decline a Shay Given comeback, Trapattoni (pictured below) has kept his eye on the future rather than focusing on the past.

He also denied reports that Damien Duff was going to come back into the fold and cited one of his newcomers, Anthony Pilkington, as a definitive replacement for the Fulham winger.

Indeed, by selecting Derby County trio Jeff Hendrick, Richard Keogh and Conor Sammon, along with finally nailing down the commitment of Pilkington and recalling Greg Cunningham, there is a sense of something new to look forward to when Poland visit Dublin in two weeks' time.

Part of the deal Trapattoni brokered with FAI chief executive John Delaney to stay in the job saw the Italian commit to going to see more matches in England and he has spent the last two weekends watching Derby take on Brighton away and Nottingham Forest at home.


He saw enough to take a closer look at three players who, he says, will all feature against the Poles.

That February 6 clash has taken on an increased importance given the fact that it is the last chance for Il Capo to work with his players ahead of the four days that will define the campaign.

Ireland travel to Stockholm to take on the in-form Sweden on March 22, before hosting Austria in Dublin four days later.

With Germany leading the way in Group C on 10 points, the Swedes are second on seven with Ireland one back in third, two points clear of the Austrians, the qualification picture will become a lot clearer at the end of a high-pressure week.

The Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired comeback that earned Sweden a 4-4 draw in Berlin has kept the group open, but Trapattoni knows that results are needed if Ireland are to have a realistic chance of making the finals in Brazil.

The 73-year-old has included new faces in his squad, with injuries affecting key players like Sean St Ledger and Marc Wilson – who, the Italian says, are major doubts – and uncertainty surrounding the availability of others. They include Richard Dunne, who is on stand-by for Poland but hasn't played in seven months, Keith Fahey who remains on compassionate leave, and Keith Andrews who is struggling with a quad injury.

"I chose these three or four players, the young players because, after I saw them, I thought they could give some very great support technically, but also physically," Trapattoni said yesterday.

"I wish to see their personalities. I saw them at their clubs, I think they have a good personality and it is very important that they show us also this personality.

"We saw the young players playing very well many times and I've always talked about maintaining that balance, making sure that there is progression.

"I've thought about this a lot and had a good look at them to see what they could add, how we would benefit from their introduction to the team and I feel that they can come into the team and not upset the balance, particularly Sammon, Hendrick and Pilkington."

Trapattoni was effusive in his praise of the newcomers, particularly Pilkington, who has been tracked for a considerable period but finally committed his international future to Ireland.

"He's made it very clear that he's ready to play for Ireland and that's very positive for the country and for him and we're looking forward to working with him," Trapattoni said.

"He's a very good player who shows a lot of potential. He's someone who we are very interested in. We've been following him for a long time, we're obviously without Damien Duff and he's the sort of player who has the ability to play both left and right.

"He's good, he's well known for his goalscoring ability and that will certainly add something, but it's not just that. Technically, he's very good and tactically, he's extremely aware on the pitch, which is very good as well. That's something we will look forward to having in the squad."

As for the Derby trio, Hendrick has long been seen as one of the brightest talents to come through the Irish system in recent years. The Coolock native starred for the Ireland U-19s at the 2011 European Championships and has amassed a wealth of Championship experience in making 87 appearances for the Rams, despite being just 20 years of age.

Physically powerful and technically adept, the central midfielder looks primed to impress and Trapattoni already likes what he sees.

"Hendrick has shown himself to be very agile, he has really good tactical vision and a good understanding of the game," he said. "He is a very good, dynamic player, who shows a lot of ability and technique working around midfield and we very much look forward to working with him."

He also paid tribute to Sammon's "great technique" and the former UCD and Derry City striker is one of six strikers in the squad.

Notable absentees include the rested captain Robbie Keane, who is currently training with Spurs, but out of season, Stephen Kelly, Alex Pearce and Joey O'Brien, who finds himself out in the cold once again after a recent recall.

Trapattoni said Kelly's absence was down to his lack of game time with Fulham before his move to Reading and the chance to look at Cunningham's progress since his move to Bristol City.

Experimentation appears to have belatedly been added to the experienced former Juventus manager's lexicon and it will add to the freshness around the camp in two weeks' time.

Whether it will have any impact six weeks later when the real business resumes, remains to be seen.

Trap may be looking to the future, but whether he'll be there to see it depends on getting results in March.

Irish Independent

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