Too much, too soon, for the boys in green
By Kieran Shannon
Sorry, but we’ve no chance now. And looking back, we never had a chance.
We went into the Croatia game with a goalkeeper who was carrying an injury and had been on the winning team just once in his last 17 club games; a left back who had won just four league games all season; a centre half who played only three games with his club since February; another centre half who played only every second game for a mid-table Championship team all season; a right full who hadn’t won a game with his club since St Patrick’s Day; two wide men who had scored only two goals between them since Christmas; a central midfielder who’d won only one of his last 10 Premier League games; another central midfielder who wasn’t even playing in the Premier League up until February; and then two strikers who registered only one Premier League win and eight goals between them all season.
We simply had too many players coming off too many defeats and injuries and goal droughts since qualification was won in November to expect they’d suddenly be transformed once they put on a green shirt.
And yet so many of us still believed, because we desperately wanted to believe and because we believed in Trap, probably because Trap believed so much in himself.
But to paraphrase a certain E Dunphy, reality is Modric, just as very soon it’s going to take the form of Iniesta.
Everything caught up with us on Sunday night: reality, luck, injuries, our limitations, including Trapattoni’s.
We’re still admirers, just not believers. In truth, it’s pretty much how we’ve all felt about the man over the last few years, up until the last few months anyway when the Olé Olé vibes got the better of people.
On one hand there’s an acceptance that he’s done just about as well as anyone could with such limited resources — Mick, let alone Jack, had better players — and yet simultaneously a sense that he himself has reduced those resources and options further by not giving playing time to someone like James McClean, a player brimming with qualities so few Irish players possessed heading into these championships — form and real individual self-confidence.
He elicits both a fondness and a frustration.
His passion for life and the game, his geniality and integrity shine through in everything he does, even in the most basic of mannerisms in an interview with Tony O’Donoghue. Put it this way: yeah, we might have qualified for these Euros with a hired international hand like Guus Hiddink or a former mid-tier Premier League manager like a Paul Jewell that Dunphy once touted, but would your mother-in-law or sister like, let alone, know them the way they feel they know and like the gentle grandfatherly Trap?
But then he does something like put Simon Cox on the wing while McClean remains rooted to the bench and you curse how granddad can be such an obstinate man and how he seems to have this distrust of boldness and talent, how every player must be so subservient, almost grateful, to play for him. He’s the Mick O’Dwyer of international football: no one has won more with so many teams for so long, yet just like Micko in his later days with Laois and Wicklow, there’s this sense Trap may be a little bit too rigid in his old ways.
There are other paradoxes he poses. He has given us an identity in international football, which is precious and vital, even if that identity is that we’re hard to watch as well as play against. His belief in his system and himself has allowed his players to win — and it has restricted them from playing.
It is what has given them confidence while reducing it. Our system is so special and so sacrosanct because you’re so limited. That’s what he’s basically telling his own players.
What’s he telling the opposition? John Giles has it right. Let’s see if you’re good enough to break us down. But if you are good, you will break us down. Croatia showed that. Russia in the Aviva 18 months ago too.
In truth, qualifying for these championships hinged on finishing ahead of Slovakia and Estonia. That might have been beyond a Steve Staunton but as much as a mess Stan left behind, it wasn’t Northern Ireland or Lilliput that Trap was taking over.
We all got carried away in recent months, including Trap with his talk of the Irish people buying into Project Trapattoni.
The journey to these championships was often uneasy on the eye, but repeatedly Trap would tell us it would all be justified by the result, the destination.
These championships are meant to be the destination. But we’ve lost to Croatia emphatically and we’re not going to shut out both Spain and Italy.
Maybe the real carnival, the real achievement of Trap, was the hope he generated, the build-up, the anticipation, the idea of these championships.
Meanwhile over those six months too many of our players either missed too much football or lost too many football games.
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