Friday 20 April 2018

Trap tentatively embraces a changing of the guard

Ireland's manager will weigh up his options ahead of the Sweden tie

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni

John O'Brien

Two days earlier they had bid a fond farewell to his beloved sister, Romilde, in Milan and now it was time for Giovanni Trapattoni to go back to work, plotting a course that might help his team through some choppy waters to the safe haven of the 2014 World Cup.

He didn't wish to make any more of this than was necessary. It was merely his professional duty, he said. No more nor less than that.

There is a clear sense now that since becoming Ireland manager five years ago, Trapattoni has never had to work harder to earn his crust, poring over DVDs and making frequent forays to England to satisfy belatedly more demanding employers, with Norwich and Derby among his regular glamour destinations. Nearly one-fifth of his original squad for the upcoming Poland game consisted of players from those clubs and, on Friday, Trapattoni confirmed we would see plenty of them.

"I think we can start off looking at [Anthony] Pilkington," he said. "He'll definitely get some game time. The second person I'd like to give some game time to is [Conor] Sammon and the third is [Jeff] Hendrick. In terms of Richard Keogh at centre-half, we'll look at it during the week and make a decision on that basis. He certainly looks promising and we'll see him in closer quarters during the week."

The case of Sammon is particularly interesting. The Derby striker, with seven Championship goals to his name this season, would scarcely have been on many people's international radar before last week, but it is clear he caught Trapattoni's eye with his work-rate and attitude and, foremost among the Italian's thoughts for February 6, is to have a look at a forward partnership of Sammon and Norwich playmaker, Wes Hoolahan.

"I actually think that Hoolahan and Sammon, without any disrespect to [Grant] Holt, Sammon is better. He has more technical characteristics. He's quicker and more agile and I think the link play between the two could be better and more exciting than what you see in the existing set-up at Norwich. We'll see. But I think Sammon and Hoolahan could offer a very interesting combination."

Tentatively, Trapattoni agreed that the increased options available to him afforded him the luxury of greater tactical innovation, but stopped well short of delivering a manifesto for change.There may be clear implications for Robbie Keane, however, in the fact that when fielding a question about the LA Galaxy striker's starting place in the crucial game in Gothenburg in March, the Italian painted a picture that was fluid and non-committal.

"This match [against Poland] will determine a lot," Trapattoni said. "As I've said we have alternatives in every position and there's a number of players who will be looking to impress and the response they give will be important to show they're up to the pressures and responsibilities of wearing the Irish jersey on international duty. That will decide if it's Peter or Paul. It's not really about the individuals in terms of the names. It's to see what they can do and what they can give us on the pitch."

And, yet, that's not entirely true either. For all that the "system" is sacrosanct, we know there is one Irish player who towers uniquely above it, and he has been struggling horribly with hip and groin problems all season. Encouragingly for Trapattoni, Richard Dunne continues on the recovery trail and the defender seems keen to

play some sort of role against Poland although the manager's innate caution counsels against it.

"I told him clearly that March is what we're looking for and it's important he is available for the threat of [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic. I told him to take it step by step. Richard said that's okay, I'll see you in March.

"But it still hasn't been decided 100 per cent whether he'll be back for Poland. It could be we'll leave him out and keep him safe for March. It's similar to what Paul Lambert was saying. It's a little bit early and dangerous also."

In parting he was asked about another injured player not so keen to rush back into the fold. About Darron Gibson, however, there was little clarity. "I sent him Christmas and New Year's greetings," Trapattoni said, "but I think he might have changed numbers. We're checking with the International Department." The reporters shook their heads in empathy. They know the feeling.

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