On trial for his club and now on trial for his country —that’s the situation Richard Dunne finds himself in on the eve of what would appear to be a make or break season for the defender.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp has already made it clear that Dunne’s contract with the club will be rendered null and void in the event of a recurrence of serious injury while, in leaving the Dublin man out of his squad for next month’s friendly against Wales in Cardiff, Giovanni Trapattoni yesterday signalled he too is waiting to see if the player’s body can handle the strains of Championship football.
As you would expect, Trapattoni was quick to dismiss the notion that Dunne might have played his last game for Ireland but, having said that, the manager left nobody in any doubt that the centre-half will have to prove his fitness by getting regular games under his belt at Loftus Road.
Asked if a fully fit Dunne could once again become an automatic starter, the Italian replied: “if he plays like the last time, yes”.
But he quickly added that he now has other options at the centre of his defence, in the likes of John O’Shea, Sean St Ledger, Ciarán Clark and Darren O’Dea.
Said Trapattoni: “After 10 months out, he needs to play, needs games to come in in a fit condition. Ten months out is very bad. It was a very dangerous injury — two big injuries, in fact: groin and shoulder. I think he needs a month to play, play, play and achieve again a fit condition. This is a delicate stage in the recovery process. Now we follow him to see how he does. When he is playing continuously we will consider him.”
While, as expected, Robbie Keane’s LA Galaxy commitments have seen him excused from the Welsh test, fresh question marks hang over the international futures of three other long-time Trapattoni picks, with Kevin Doyle, Keith Andrews and Andy Keogh all missing out on the latest 26 man squad for the game in Cardiff City Stadium on Wednesday August 15.
“I have Doyle in my heart,” said Trapattoni, patting his chest, “but it is my duty to decide what is best for the team. I have respect for the career and for the man but when another comes up who is better, my duty is to change. I promised the FAI to change the team and discover other players.”
Of course, Trapattoni was also at pains to say that he wasn’t about to consign anyone to the past, especially not with injuries to his players one of the crosses he is all too accustomed to having to bear.
“We watch always Doyle and Andrews but at the moment we continue the evolution,” he said. “We look, we check fitness and after that we decide. The life goes on.”
And it seems even those currently assured of a starting place can afford no complacency, with Trapattoni suggesting the prospect of new opportunities at Sunderland could see Keiren Westwood challenging David Forde for the number one slot.
“(Goalkeeping coach) Alan Kelly knows very well Keiren Westwood, David Forde and also Darren Randolph,” said Trapattoni. “We have enough goalkeepers. I think we have only the problem of deciding which. In the past, Given was Given with no discussion. Now we have two or three at the same level.”
Speaking in Bray, ahead of today’s FAI AGM in Wicklow, Trapattoni reiterated his determination to lead Ireland to the finals of the World Cup. Still haunted by the dropped point at home to Austria — “in 92 minutes, 37 seconds we conceded the draw”, he grimaced — Trapattoni brightened up as he scanned the cover of a brochure for the local Air Show “I think we fly to Brazil,” he smiled. “After the disappointment of last year, the squad has now moved on completely. I am very confident.”
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