Giovanni Trapattoni has challenged his fringe players to grasp the opportunity to force their way into his World Cup plans.
The Republic of Ireland boss will make wholesale changes for tomorrow night’s friendly clash with South Africa at Thomond Park three days after seeing his senior men clinch a vital qualifier victory in Cyprus.
Manchester United defender John O’Shea has returned to his club for scans on a calf injury, while midfielder Aiden McGeady has been excused duty because of a knock.
With skipper Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Kevin Kilbane and Stephen Hunt also being released, the depth of the Italian’s squad will be tested in full.
Only Sean St Ledger, providing he has not suffered any reaction to his knee injury, Keith Andrews and captain for the night Kevin Doyle of the XI who started in Nicosia will do so again in Limerick.
But Trapattoni has impressed upon those men who come in – Keiren Westwood, Stephen Kelly, Paul McShane, Eddie Nolan, Liam Lawrence, Darron Gibson, Andy Keogh and Caleb Folan will all play – that they need to prove to him they have what it takes to do a job in the remaining qualifiers and beyond if called upon.
He said: “When you go to a World Cup, you are going to have important players missing for big games.”
Trapattoni continued: ``I hope we don't, but sometimes you are missing important players, and it is important for a coach to have others, not necessarily with the same qualities, who can play in that position with experience and personality.
“Players like Eddie Nolan and Liam Lawrence, they can play with personality.
“I am looking for a team that does not have to change because players are missing – one time John O’Shea on the right, one time John O’Shea on the left.
“We need to be able to play without evening thinking about it because we all know the system, and that’s why we need to look at the players who can play in those positions.”
Trapattoni’s determination to stick to the system he believes best suits the players at his disposal is not universally popular in Ireland, but it is proving successful in terms of results.
The Republic have a genuine chance of qualifying for next summer’s World Cup finals, which are being hosted by tomorrow night’s opponents, after a run of eight Group Eight games which has brought four wins and four draws, one of those points coming against reigning champions Italy in Bari.
Victory over the Italians, who face third-placed Bulgaria in Turin under the watchful eyes of Trapattoni on Wednesday evening, could even open the door to automatic qualification, and that would be a major achievement.
The manager’s critics have bemoaned the approach he has adopted, but he is making no apologies despite admitting his side were far from at their best in Cyprus.
He said: “We didn’t play well – I have seen the game again – but we were not too bad.
“But it was not easy. We recovered to get the result because of our mentality in the second half, and that’s a positive situation.
“When there was a negative situation, the team showed me they could react in the right way.”
Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana knows all about that mentality and exactly what to expect from Ireland.
He said: “Ireland are one team who are not easy to play against, especially at home.
“They have one philosophy which we South Africans are not comfortable with - they play long ball, they play pressure football, they are strong and make you very uncomfortable.
“The Irish play with a lot of energy and they are also dangerous in dead ball situations, so we have to prepare thoroughly.”