Sport Soccer

Monday 18 December 2017

Trap sticks to tried and tested for road ahead

Daniel McDonnell looks at five things the Irish manager's latest squad tells us about how we are shaping up for Macedonia showdown

Giovanni Trapattoni was presented with a photograph of himself when he was assistant manager of AC Milan, with manager Nereo Rocco, on their visit to St. Mels Park, Athlone, for their UEFA Cup, 2nd Round, 1st leg, game against Athlone Town in 1975. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Giovanni Trapattoni was presented with a photograph of himself when he was assistant manager of AC Milan, with manager Nereo Rocco, on their visit to St. Mels Park, Athlone, for their UEFA Cup, 2nd Round, 1st leg, game against Athlone Town in 1975. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Giovanni Trapattoni returned to Athlone yesterday, a town he visited in 1975 when he was part of the AC Milan coaching staff for their famous European encounter with the natives in St Mel's Park.

After dropping into the local Institute of Technology to name his squad for the upcoming games with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Macedonia, he was introduced to members of the Athlone team from that day, including John Minnock, who missed a penalty in the scoreless draw.

He needed reminding of the identities before shaking hands and renewing acquaintances.

However, there was a familiarity about the names selected for the gathering later this month. The Irish manager had previously indicated that there would be room for experimentation, but that will largely come within the confines of his existing squad.

Wolves' Stephen Ward is a new arrival, joining back-up 'keeper David Forde in the uncapped category. Caleb Folan is recalled after adapting well to his new life in America.

Otherwise, the core of the squad is unchanged, with a number of injury concerns surrounding provisional inclusions. Here's what we learned from the squad.

(1) Injuries are the big issue for Macedonia

Damien Duff was bizarrely named as a possible option, even though Trapattoni confirmed in his subsequent press conference that the 32-year-old will not be ready in time due to an Achilles injury. With Richard Dunne suspended for Macedonia, Trapattoni will need to switch things around in defence.

Alas, both Sean St Ledger and Darren O'Dea are carrying significant knocks, with the latter in a bad way with an ankle complaint.

The good news is that Shay Given seems to be fine, all the more relevant considering his deputy Keiren Westwood has a shoulder issue.

Kevin Doyle and Keith Andrews are on the comeback trail, and there's still a couple of rounds of club matches before the squad meet up on May 22, so the Italian is praying for a good run in the meantime, referencing John O'Shea as a player who is of particular importance.

"At the moment, we have a lot of question marks," added Trapattoni, who is aiming for three points on June 4. He doesn't want Ireland to be in a situation where they need to win in Moscow in September.

(2) Wes Hoolahan is well down the pecking order

There was an expectation that the Norwich star would be included after playing a key role in their promotion to the Premier League. Hoolahan won his only Irish cap under Trapattoni against Colombia three years ago, yet has been out of the picture since then.

"At the moment, no," said the manager when asked if Hoolahan had a chance of figuring. "We have many players confirmed in the team, in the squad. Tomorrow, we cannot change."

The outlook is grim enough for Hoolahan when you scan the list. He is an attacking midfielder who can operate centrally or on the left flank. In addition to the first teamers, Duff and McGeady, he looks to have Stephen Hunt, Keith Treacy, Stephen Ward, James McCarthy and Keith Fahey ahead of him.

(3) Trapattoni feels the English season is too long

He acknowledged this is a bad time of the year to be involved in a game of significance given the wear and tear coming off the back of a lengthy campaign.

The Italian banged a familiar drum when stating that the English season is too long and too crowded for overworked players. "You know how many games they play?" he said. "It's unbelievable. Wednesday. Saturday. They play many, many games. The players are a little bit tired and it's easy to make injury."

(4) Simon Cox is the only new convert for now

The West Brom frontman -- who can also operate on the wing -- will be drafted in once the relevant qualification comes through. He qualifies through his grandmother.

There had been speculation that other options like Wolves' Richard Stearman, Nottingham Forest's Luke Chambers and possibly even Jamie O'Hara could come into contention.

But there was nothing to report there. Trapattoni is reluctant to rush individuals into contention quickly. "When there is a new name, we go and look at them," he said.

"We have to evaluate if these players are better than what we have."

(5) Post-Macedonia plans are up in the air

A friendly with Italy on June 7 is on the cards, but it won't take place in Ireland or Italy. A trip to the United States is off the agenda, it seems, with the agent responsible unable to bring that plan along.

Instead, a European venue is likely, with Brussels mentioned by Trapattoni. A training camp in the US would have involved a developmental squad, but the peripheral members of yesterday's panel are the ones who will come into contention for the Italian game. Exact confirmation of the plans is anticipated soon.

  • Five Airtricity League clubs have been awarded licences for next season's UEFA club competitions. Shamrock Rovers FC will be entered in the Champions League, with Bohemians, Sligo Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic participating in the Europa League. UCD were also awarded a licence in the event that a UEFA 'Fair Play' place is awarded to the Airtricity League.

Irish Independent

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