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Time for Trap to rise from his armchair

FOR the third year in succession, there's a large number of Irish football followers of the strong opinion that Giovanni Trapattoni's New Year resolution should be to attend more matches.

The problem for the Italian is that there's a dwindling number of senior players available for him to go and see at the top level of the English game.

When the issue of his attendance at games is brought up, the 71-year-old cheerily describes how he receives a mountain of tapes, or spends afternoons watching two or three games on Sky Sports in succession.

Alas, the unfortunate reality at the moment is that if Trapattoni wants to track the progress of his key players, he needs to be sitting in the stands of Premier League grounds, because that's where a number of them have been located in a troubling couple of months.

Trapattoni hasn't always been consistent in stating that he will only pick individuals who will line out for their clubs on a regular basis. He tends to pluck out that argument when it suits him.

For example, whenever the vexed issue of Andy Reid was brought up over the past 12 months, Il Capo cited his lack of activity at Sunderland.

Or when Darron Gibson's exclusion was questioned, the Irish boss suggested that he needed more games.

Back in August, though, he was singing from a different hymn sheet when it became obvious that Shay Given and Robbie Keane would be spectators for the first half of the new campaign.

Nostalgically, Trap recalled his own playing days, where a shortage of match practice could easily be overcome. He envisaged that it would be no problem.


However, come October, and the resounding defeat at the hands of Russia, he conceded that players were suffering due to negative club situations, with Glenn Whelan and Keane referenced in particular.

Carrying two or three lethargic figures was difficult enough but the picture has deteriorated dramatically since then. Keane and Given are stuck in the background, while Whelan remains reduced to substitute appearances and Kevin Kilbane is in and out of the team at Hull.

The problem for Trap is that Kilbane has actually been more involved than the other regular back four members over the past month.

Richard Dunne has spectacularly fallen out of favour at Aston Villa, and Sean St Ledger has slipped from main man to bench-warmer at Preston, although the sacking of Darren Ferguson might offer a glimmer of light.

John O'Shea, meanwhile, has failed to really get going this season at Manchester United, bizarrely so considering that he was offered a new contract in the autumn.

Keith Andrews remains on the sidelines through injury at Blackburn, and Kevin Doyle has also endured the frustration of niggling problems in a difficult campaign at Wolves.

Even Damien Duff, who was so influential for Fulham last year, was dropped by Mark Hughes for a couple of matches earlier this month.

Liam Lawrence and Aiden McGeady, who moved to Portsmouth and Spartak Moscow respectively in August, are a rarity amongst Trap's favourites in that they have enjoyed a sustained run of matches.

It's a remarkable crisis, and it must surely prompt a reaction from Trapattoni ahead of the Carling Nations Cup meeting with Wales in February.

Perhaps in the desperation to sell tickets, there might be some guff about the importance of winning the new tournament. But, of course, there is no importance.

Not when this country hasn't qualified for a major tournament in almost a decade, and the association badly needs the finances from such an achievement.

Therefore, it's the right time for a degree of experimentation, and Trapattoni needs to start thinking outside the box to find genuine alternatives to his dissatisfied chosen ones.

Scottish form pair Adam Rooney and Conor Sammon, who have a confidence in front of goal at the moment that few Irish strikers can match, deserve the respect of a visit from the man who makes the decisions.

More pertinently, he needs to explore his defensive options. With his first-choice pair inactive, it is time to consider alternatives, even if they've been in the squad before. Paddy McCarthy, Alex Bruce and Damien Delaney have featured peripherally in the international set-up.

Clearly, Trapattoni has reservations about their ability after spending ample time with them on the training ground.

Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon him to check on their form, given Dunne and St Ledger's travails. It may be worth dropping into an Everton reserve game to see how Shane Duffy is getting on, as it's possible he could be needed sooner than anticipated. It is expected that David Moyes will send him out on loan at some stage in the New Year and that would be a welcome development.

Certainly, Greg Cunningham's stint at Leicester makes the case for his inclusion ahead of Kilbane compelling. In fact, the glass half full in this argument is that if James McCarthy bounces back to fitness and David Meyler continues his recovery then, in tandem with the in-form Seamus Coleman, Ireland would have three promising youngsters lining out at Premier League level every week.

The crowded fixture schedule should offer Gibson more opportunities at Manchester United too, and there are signs that Marc Wilson will be given added responsibility at Stoke. But close observers of the Trapattoni regime know that it would be unwise to get sucked into discussing form as a means of hypothesising what his team might be for the spring internationals.

The autumn taught us that, in his mind, form really doesn't matter. It's hard to envisage the stubborn manager leaving his armchair and turning over a new leaf.

Irish Independent