Wednesday 13 December 2017

Waiting room is the place for Trap's sicknotes

All was calm in Malahide yesterday. Training was cancelled, with the players given a day off to go golfing. Giovanni Trapattoni was in good form, chuckling when it was explained to him why Irish fans are drawing so much amusement from Simon Cox's surname.

It was a fortnight ago that Trapattoni was shaking with anger at the manner in which this gathering had kicked off, with players in absentia and the apparent disinterest of youth leaving the 72-year-old at the end of his tether.

Contrast that with his demeanour in the wake of Saturday's win in Skopje. Afterwards, there was pride at the manner in which the players had performed. Yet, there was also a sense of relief.

The lengthy build-up to the Macedonia game succeeded in raising the stakes and increasing the feeling of trepidation.

Throw in the injuries, the heat, the form of key men, and the no-show furore, and all the ingredients were there for an upset.

In the end, it proved to be a comfortable success, inspired by the brilliance of Robbie Keane and Shay Given, a duo who are so often taken for granted.

Sure, there was a great deal of fortune about Ireland's decisive interval cushion. Keane's record-breaking 50th goal was deflected, and the second was a present.

John O'Shea could have been sent off if the German referee had given an earlier penalty shout and, when the Manchester United man was adjudged to have upended Macedonian skipper Goran Pandev, Ivan Trickovski struck the bar. The survivors of Paris will feel they were due a bit of luck.

But they controlled their own destiny in the second half, with the visitors shutting up shop and cruising to the three points.

Considering the Irish ability to make protecting a lead a very complicated business, the positives from the lack of drama really shouldn't be underestimated. Maybe it didn't make for great viewing as a spectacle but, in reality, this was always going to be the kind of trip where the result was everything.

As ever, there has been criticism of the methodology. Trapattoni, though, was quick to state that the players had followed his instructions. He admitted that Macedonia were stronger in possession in the second half. However, the Irish priority was to regain the shape that was lost in a chaotic opening 45 minutes.


The defensive line was stronger after the interval, with the hosts restricted to speculative long-range attempts as they sought to reduce the deficit. Keane believed that the penalty miss killed the hosts psychologically and, certainly, there was a distinct lack of urgency from Mirsad Jonuz's side in the final quarter of an hour. Indeed, the large crowd at the newly renovated Philip II Stadium were reduced to the tedium killer that is a Mexican wave.

It's quite likely their coach will leave his post before the next round of fixtures in September.

Trapattoni, on the other hand, is standing strong. His Irish future will hinge on the week in September when Slovakia come to Dublin, before the daunting journey to Moscow. Four points would put the Irish in with a fighting chance of securing automatic qualification. A wrong result on Saturday could have left them chasing six.

It was all about character. After two weeks of debating the character of the modern footballer, the nature of this Irish display proved that it's not all bad.

Four of the men in white shirts required painkilling injections to see them through. Keane took one before the game. Given damaged his groin in the early stages and needed a half-time boost. ('At last, a true groin injury,' joked Trapattoni afterwards. Take note Darron Gibson).

The terrier-like Stephen Hunt, who harassed the well-regarded Macedonian left-back Goran Popov, took a jab "in his arse" at the break. Darren O'Dea was another who required a boost beforehand, and he was walking wounded afterwards. Glenn Whelan was on the receiving end of special treatment early in the week.

Trapattoni hailed their commitment and Keane indicated afterwards that the group who have been involved in this successful mission should all be rewarded for their dedication.

"It's important for the lads who are here to show that they should be here and that they have a right to be here," he declared. "The next squad, they should be in."

The message has clearly struck a chord with Trapattoni, who was speaking in similar terms on the afternoon after the night before.

"Now, we give priority to those who played well and achieved the results in Carling Nations Cup and Macedonia," he said, with a look to the future.

"I don't forget also (Darron) Gibson or (Marc) Wilson but obviously they have to deserve their place."

In other words, they may have to wait for some other people to suffer injuries before they are given an opportunity to get back in the good books.

That would be a popular sentiment amongst the hardcore of Irish followers who ventured to the former Yugoslav republic.

Of course, the mood could have changed quickly. If Saturday had ended in ignominy, the blame for the depleted squad would have been spread around.

Now, those who stayed away could live to regret it.

The old reliables proved their worth. Trapattoni, like many others, is puzzled as to why Given is a reserve with Manchester City and confirmed that he is trying to orchestrate a move to Italy or another country for the Donegal man, although he acknowledged there were many other factors to take into consideration.

Keane was magnificent, making his own luck for both goals by taking up the right positions.

"He will find a new club," declared his delighted manager.

What next? Tomorrow's friendly with Italy will be an exercise for the fringe players, ostensibly an opportunity for those who spent the business end of last week in a tracksuit.

It will be the last window for any real form of experimentation until the Euro 2012 campaign is over. The August friendly will be a quickfire meeting and, surely, Trapattoni will be looking towards finding the right formula for September.

Saturday has ensured that the sicknotes will struggle to force their way into that equation.

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