Trap to run rule over new boys for Brazil
AS central London revelled in the victory parade to honour the heroes of Team GB yesterday, the Irish team going through their paces just down the road in Craven Cottage seemed like a world away.
Britain's Olympic and Paralympic success has served as a reminder of the adulation that comes with achievement on the greatest stage. Giovanni Trapattoni's men did have a taste of the rock star treatment in Poland, but we all know how that ended.
Still, there is one parallel to be drawn between the message on the streets of England's capital and the vibe around preparations in west London ahead of tonight's low-key friendly meeting with Oman at the home of Fulham.
With the summer of 2012 fading into memory, it's all about looking ahead to Rio.
Trapattoni's decision to field an experimental side might draw a couple more exiles along to a game that has largely slipped under the radar.
Leaving James McClean on the bench has removed one significant area of interest until the second half at least, but in other departments there are reasons to hope that hindsight renders this game relevant.
Without going into specifics, the 73-year-old gave the impression that some of tonight's protagonists can play themselves into the reckoning for the road to Brazil.
The performances of Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson will be of special interest. Coleman is still waiting to be entrusted in his preferred right-back role by David Moyes, and there's a sense that Trapattoni has been waiting for his Everton counterpart to take the lead on that score.
The Italian has talked at length about wanting to try Coleman in the position where he made his name at Sligo and Blackpool, and finally he is taking that leap.
Last Friday in Kazakhstan, the Irish full-backs spent large parts of the game lumping the ball into opposition territory. Coleman is unlikely to be comfortable with that approach. In the lengthy training session at AFC Wimbledon on Sunday, Trapattoni worked on drills that involved Coleman overlapping with intent. More of that would be welcome.
"He can perhaps make a minimum of 10 crosses during the game," Trap enthused. "That can be a big help to us. There are games where the other teams have too many in midfield, but the support from two full-backs going up and down can make it easier. If you watch Germany, their defenders never stop running up and down the line."
Wilson, on the other hand, is less flamboyant. Indeed, he feels that his natural home is in the centre of midfield. But he has forged a Premier League career as a regular for Stoke in the left-back berth, and with Stephen Ward in need of competition for that place, this is a chance for the Aghagallon man to mount a strong case. He also has the versatility to slot in elsewhere in the back four if there is a reshuffle as the game progresses. Trapattoni was unhappy with the free kick Ward gave away last Friday.
DOYLE AND LONG
The ex-Cork and Reading team-mates both had to settle for substitute roles in Astana and it was Doyle who ultimately made the difference. With Robbie Keane allowed back to LA Galaxy, we get another chance to see how the Irish frontline might look without the skipper, who admitted that he contemplated retirement before this campaign.
There is an argument that a Doyle-Long partnership -- or the presence of Jon Walters with either -- would provide extra mobility to what Keane offers in his current guise.
Long's pace and athleticism have made him unpopular with Premier League defenders, and while he has been paired with Doyle on many occasions in the past, the Tipp lad has matured to an extent where their link-up is worth monitoring with a view to the short-term future.
MEYLER AND McCARTHY
James McCarthy made his Irish debut as a late sub in London two-and-a-half years ago in a friendly with Brazil at the Emirates Stadium. He was thrown in on the wing in place of Aiden McGeady, essentially because Trapattoni did not trust the central midfielder in his preferred berth.
Finally, he has convinced the 73-year-old that he has what it takes to carry the burden of engine-room responsibility and tonight he is partnered by debutant David Meyler (left).
The Cork lad has dealt with his fair share of adversity to reach this juncture. At Sunderland, they love Meyler for his work rate, and Trapattoni, who is always concerned about the lack of height in his side, welcomes the aggression and presence that comes naturally to the 23-year-old.
"He has a good personality," said Trapattoni, "And he is direct and gets around the pitch."
Doyle also paid tribute to Meyler, welcoming the fact that another product of Cork City and the League of Ireland has advanced to this stage. "Coming back from two cruciates shows his mentality," said the Wexford man. "He'll have no problems dealing with this."
They've also been talking hurling given that Meyler's dad, John, hails from Doyle's home turf and is a former county player and manager.
With James McClean on the sidelines, this is an opportunity for another exciting winger to make an impression. Brady is not an overnight sensation -- his story is different.
For a long time, Irish football fans have been waiting for the St Kevin's Boys product to grow up. Having progressed to the fringes at Manchester United and scored seven times for his country at U-21 level, this is the Dubliner's big opportunity.
His confidence has made a big impression on Trapattoni, who contrasted it with the shyness of McCarthy.
Technically, he was compared to Andy Reid, but with an important distinction -- Brady is quick.
"Robbie is very technical and creative. He has a good personality and is a little bit cocky sometimes, but that shows that he knows his quality. And he has an awareness about where the goal is and isn't afraid to shoot," said Trapattoni.
Doyle also endorsed his credentials. "I've never played with him before," said the Wolves man. "I've just heard about his reputation. Everyone has always said he's a future star and he's getting his chance now. There's no shyness and it should help him."
Ciaran Clark, who has expressed surprise at his continued exclusion by Trapattoni, was brought up last night. Ireland's manager responded with the customary "we follow him", which is a worrying statement to be placed next to any budding Irish international career.
And then discussion turned to Pearce, the Reading defender who starts on the bench tonight but should replace either Stephen Kelly or Paul McShane at some stage. Pearce has matured from the teenager Doyle remembers from his time with the Royals. Now 24, he is their first-choice centre-half and hugely popular with supporters.
Trapattoni likes what he sees and with a shortage of top-level defensive options, his emergence is welcome.
"He's physically good, technically good and heads the ball well," he said. "And now he just needs to learn our system."
Sean St Ledger, who misses out through injury, made his Irish bow in a Fulham friendly and went on to nail down a place. With Richard Dunne a certain starter upon his return, Pearce is targeting St Ledger's place in the side.