Wednesday 21 March 2018


That Seamus Coleman brought to Dublin to sit on bench
That the result was prioritised over squad developmentThat the chance to try Aiden McGeady in central role was ignored
That senior players were kept on pitch for so long
That experienced subs came on ahead of promising youngsters

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

FRIENDLIES don't always have to be meaningless. Sometimes, though, the actions of managers make them seem that way.

The exorbitant ticket prices meant that the punters filtering out of the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday night already had reason to feel short-changed.

Those sentiments were intensified by the underwhelming nature of Ireland's friendly with Norway and the fact that Giovanni Trapattoni altered his plans to blood some of the players whom fans had come to see, specifically the large contingent there to have a look at Everton's rising star Seamus Coleman.

Of course, Trapattoni (71) shouldn't be responding to pressure from supporters with respect to picking his team.

But, from a football point of view, the decision was particularly inexplicable. Exciting Irish youngsters in the Premier League are few and far between.

Both last month and 24 hours before the game, Trapattoni distinctly said that the former Sligo Rovers star would win a first cap.

He decided against it with a view to protecting the result -- and then Ireland went and lost anyway.

The Irish boss held his usual debrief in the Clarion Dublin Airport Hotel yesterday morning, and attempted to tackle the key questions arising from the loss to Egil Olsen's charges.

1 Why was Seamus Coleman an unused substitute?

The question on everybody's lips. Trapattoni was asked about the logic on at least three separate occasions and his answer can be summarised as follows:

Basically, when Darren O'Dea went off injured, the instant decision was made to bring Stephen Kelly inside to centre- half alongside John O'Shea, thus leaving a vacancy.

Kevin Foley -- overdue a second cap -- was introduced as a right-back at that point, but the manager's intention was to bring the Wolves man into midfield a few minutes later to step in for either Keith Fahey or Glenn Whelan. That would have paved the way for Coleman to be brought in at right-back.

That's the only position where Trapattoni wants to see him, for while the 22-year-old is being deployed as a winger by David Moyes at the moment, the Irish boss feels he is well subscribed in that department.

However, with the game poised at 1-1, Trapattoni decided to leave things as they were, rather than instigating another reshuffle by summoning Coleman.

"The draw was enough," said Trapattoni. "I wish to win and if I had made this change and we lose, I would ask myself: 'Why did I make this change?' That is football."

So, in other words, Trapattoni felt Ireland had something to lose. Baffling, when there was a gilt-edged chance to see Coleman play at international level. The logic is extremely dubious.

2 Why was so much importance placed on the result?

Friendly matches can improve world ranking position, but Trapattoni didn't beat that drum. Instead, he was keen for a positive result -- "for confidence and morale."

Naturally, the players and staff would have pride in the result and would aim to win the game, but it seems remarkable that such emphasis would be placed on the outcome at the expense of giving valuable game-time to up-and-coming prospects. It doesn't really seem to be working either. Ireland have now lost four home friendlies during his tenure.

His team on Wednesday night was under-strength to start with and nothing like a side that will be fielded in a qualifying game, so it's not as if he wanted to get this XI into a winning habit.

They will be pulled apart anyway when some more established players are back. Beating a side with a 100pc record in their qualifying group to date might have been a feather in the cap, but it seems an unusual target in the context of the bigger picture.

3 Why not give Aiden McGeady more time behind a lone striker?

On Tuesday, Trapattoni had spoken at length about trying the Spartak Moscow man behind a solitary frontman in this encounter. During the first half, there was a sign that it was on the cards. With McGeady on the bench, Trap briefly reverted to 4-5-1, with Liam Lawrence as the furthest forward of the three central midfielders, Kevin Doyle on his own up front and Shane Long dropping back to the right side.

Alas, when McGeady entered the fray, he took up a familiar berth on the right wing and spent the entire second half in that position.

What more was Trapattoni going to learn about McGeady from there? It would have made more sense to give Coleman or Foley an entire half of exposure in that berth.

Okay, Trap may have wanted to try Jonathan Walters alongside Long in a two-man front line, yet both both of these can also operate on the right wing, so there was a chance to switch things for 15 or 20 minutes. He shied away from doing so.

4 Why was Damien Duff on the pitch for 75 minutes?

Really, was there anything to be gained from giving Damien Duff a 75-minute outing? Yes, the Dubliner has missed the opening four Euro 2012 qualifiers and remains an integral part of the team; he should certainly be in the first XI when everyone is available.

He remains enthusiastic about representing his country and that should be applauded. Nevertheless, half a game to welcome him back into the fold would have been enough -- if that was even necessary at all.

Duff is involved regularly for his club, and therefore didn't need game-time like other regulars such as Whelan or Shay Given.

Trapattoni called off Doyle and Lawrence at the break, and Duff should also have left the fray at this point. Maybe he wanted him to forge a partnership with Greg Cunningham, but it's a weak argument.

5 Why were other newcomers left on the bench in favour of experienced pros?

On Tuesday, Trapattoni suggested that Stephen Hunt would have to sit out this one, as he wanted to pitch Keith Treacy into proceedings. Similarly, Stoke's Marc Wilson was in line to figure, potentially as another holding midfield option.

Then 16 minutes from time, Hunt was sent forth to step in for Duff, while Wilson wasn't used at all.

One of the positives from the game was Keith Fahey's performance, and he dovetailed quite well with Whelan.

Perhaps Trap wanted to stick with that pair for a little longer, but he acknowledged afterwards that Whelan was tiring in the final minutes. Surely, it was a chance to see what Wilson can offer, especially when it seems as though he is on the verge of overtaking Whelan in the Britannia Stadium queue.

Ireland missed Hunt's endeavour against Russia and Slovakia, but Treacy is doing well at Preston and this was a no-risk opportunity to follow on from his noteworthy cameo against Argentina in August.

Trap says he was afraid of having four inexperienced figures out of five on the pitch at one time. It's an understandable point of view until you consider that several times in the past 18 months, Ireland have entered competitive games with a bench mainly made up of subs with no serious international experience.

Wednesday's pragmatism could develop into a risky long-term strategy.

Irish Independent

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