WE learnt a lot in Malahide yesterday. When a lengthy Ireland training session was eventually opened up, the large squad that will board the flight for Kazakhstan this morning was engaged in a lively game.
And, as Giovanni Trapattoni confirmed afterwards, the men in the fluorescent bibs are in pole position to start Friday's World Cup qualifier in Astana.
He is leaning towards a side with Keiren Westwood in goals, John O'Shea at right-back, fit-again Sean St Ledger partnering Darren O'Dea in central defence, with Stephen Ward retained on the left.
Then, in midfield, Simon Cox is in line to start in the wide right position, with Aiden McGeady on the other flank, and James McCarthy, as expected, partnering Glenn Whelan in the centre.
Up front, skipper Robbie Keane looks like being partnered by Jonathan Walters.
That selection, aligned with Trapattoni's accompanying comments, give us an insight into the manager's thinking about events in Poland during the summer -- and in the months that followed.
Some members of the camp will not be amused.
Kevin Doyle is the Euros fall guy as Walters shines
At the beginning of the Euro 2012 campaign, Doyle and Keane were the Italian's favoured partnership. That's no longer the case.
Doyle missed out to Spain during the finals, but was retained for the final game against Italy and gave a strong display. Indeed, his contribution during the finals was arguably superior to an off-colour Keane.
But the Wexford man has lost out to the in-form Walters, who is playing regularly at Premier League level for Stoke. Like good pal Stephen Hunt, Doyle's stock has fallen within the Irish set-up.
"Walters is a strong player, physically," said Trapattoni. "I will ask him to expend all of his energy up front, I must ask him to 'work, work, work, hold the ball up, let the team come up' and when he is tired, we'll have other important options. We have Long who is fast, also Doyle."
A drop to fourth choice is a worrying development for a man who stayed loyal to Wolves.
SHANE LONG IS PAYING THE PENALTY FOR BELGRADE
Long was in the starting team for Belgrade, until the dispute over his fitness, which ended up with Trapattoni saying he was injured, the player insisting he was fine, and the manager branding a promising young player as 'an idiot'.
Simon Cox stepped in for that encounter, kicking off in a wide role, before moving in-field and producing an impressive display.
However, Long would be very unfortunate to miss out on a chance because of his current form.
Trapattoni has stressed his value as an impact substitute and with Walters set to run himself into the ground and Keane failing to finish a game in the Euros, perhaps the manager wants to keep a strong performer in reserve.
However, the Tipp native has flown out of the blocks in the Premier League this term, and has the pace and power to make an impact both up front and from wide if Trapattoni is thinking of replacing Damien Duff with a forward player.
Clearly, his relationship with the manager is not what it should be. Trapattoni referred to Long as a 'bambino' in the midst of his post-Serbia outburst while, at Premier League level, the ex-Reading attacker is operating like a 25-year-old man who is developing into a genuine top-of-the-range performer.
He would surely be starting in Astana if it wasn't for events last month.
JAMES McCLEAN IS NOT TRUSTED TO REPLACE DUFF
After Marco Tardelli's bizarre calls for a Damien Duff return on Tuesday, Trapattoni followed it up by saying that management still feel there might be some chance if they call the Dubliner again.
"I said 'Damien, never say never'," said Trapattoni. "We can wait after these games and, maybe before the Germany game, I said that we can speak again.
"He is a great man and maybe the decision will be made by Damien because his heart is with Ireland," he said.
It is a far-fetched notion, at best, but it demonstrates his concern at the alternatives.
By opting for a striker, Simon Cox, in that department, it is hardly a vote of confidence in the claims of James McClean. Trapattoni still feels he has plenty to learn.
He referenced Cox's fine performance in Belgrade as the primary reason. Nevertheless, McClean could argue that he spent half his time on the pitch in an unfamiliar central role.
Cox does offer the ability to switch things mid-game, yet the fact remains that McClean is performing week in week out on the left wing at the highest level, while the Nottingham Forest new boy has shone in the club sphere by dropping down a level and finally getting a run in his best position -- as a striker.
If Trapattoni and Tardelli were convinced against McClean, they would be building him up rather than making ambitious advances towards a player who emphatically retired two weeks ago.
DEFENSIVE PLAN looks like being more of THE SAME
Ireland were exposed by superior opposition at the Euros, and seem set to retain a similar shape despite the flaws that became apparent in Poland.
Obviously, a poor Kazakhstan side are hardly going to expose them to the same degree. Still, as a trial run for the showdown against Germany in October, Trapattoni is evidently sticking with the same formula.
Sean St Ledger has made a better than expected recovery from a knee problem, and will be reunited with Darren O'Dea in a partnership that had their finest hour-and-a-half in the friendly win over Italy in Belgium back in June, 2011.
John O'Shea, who is more comfortable at centre-half for his club, is in line to continue at right-back, with Stephen Ward on the left, and the likes of Stephen Kelly and Marc Wilson kept in reserve.
"It's one of those things," said O'Shea. "The manager at club level seemingly said I will be playing centre-half more, but I'm well accustomed to it (right back)."
Once Richard Dunne is available again, you'd imagine O'Dea will step out, and Germany will encounter the same rearguard that Croatia, Italy and Spain did.
We all know what happened then. The question is if minimal change can bring about a serious turnaround.