Trapattoni may take a Long shot

THE build-up to Ireland’s European Championship qualification play-offs against Estonia next month gets off to an early start today when Giovanni Trapattoni unveils his squad at 9am in FAI headquarters in Abbotstown.

After that, the Ireland manager heads west to take up an invitation to visit the Cliffs of Moher, a spectacle which is bound to invite captions of either the ‘looking to a bright future’ or ‘staring into the abyss’ variety, ahead of what will be the decisive games of his tenure. ‘On the brink’, perhaps, might be the most acceptable compromise.

Trapattoni’s main concern for now is the well-being of his strikers, with Kevin Doyle suspended for the first leg, Shane Long all but ruled out by his club West Brom, and Robbie Keane still on the road to recovery, all of which has left Newcastle United’s Leon Best hoping for a recall.

But while Roy Hodgson this week insisted that Long would definitely miss the play-offs with a knee injury, the FAI have not yet officially ruled him out and Trapattoni could well include him in the squad he names today.

Yesterday, Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish defended the controversial challenge by Alan Hutton which could sideline Long for up to six weeks.

“Alan made a tackle, the ball was there to be won,” said McLeish “We feel sorry about the outcome of that one. Shane Long is a wonderful player and we are sorry the lad got injured. But, believe you me, there are challenges like that every single game and, when no-one is hurt, then there is nothing said about it. It is only when a player gets hurt that it is dressed up to look malicious and intentional, and Alan Hutton is not that type of player.”

Meanwhile, Wolves winger Stephen Hunt, a former team-mate of Long’s at Reading, is hoping the striker can defy the odds and recover in time for at least the second leg of the play-offs.

Recalling Long’s superb performance for West Brom against Wolves just after he’d been left out of the Irish team which beat Armenia, Hunt said: “I think we were unlucky to come up against Shane Long when he felt like he should have played for Ireland three days beforehand. He was an angry man that day and he played like an angry man that day.

“If he doesn’t make it, he will be a loss for Ireland,” Hunt added. “He has not totally ruled himself out of it yet so we will see. He might have a chance of making the second game — we don’t know about these things. But Coxie (Simon Cox) came in for the last game and did well. What will be, will be.”

Best is the man hoping to capitalise on the uncertainty. A key player in Newcastle’s unexpectedly flying to start to the season, the striker hasn’t featured in an Irish squad since he was an unused substitute against Paraguay 17 months ago.

A few weeks ago, Trapattoni explained Best’s absence by suggesting that he needed to up his workrate, comments which drew criticism from Best’s club manager Alan Pardew.

And this week Best staked his own claim to a recall saying: “I just need a call, my number hasn’t changed. I am ready to come in and play if Ireland need me and if the management picks me I’ll be delighted. I am confident and playing well for a successful team in the best league in the world. That can only help Ireland.”

Another forgotten striker, Anthony Stokes, would also love to hear from Trapattoni.

“Honestly, I would love to be back in the international set-up, but there is nothing I can do if I don’t get in there,” said the Celtic man.

“I am playing reasonably well at the moment and I am happy with my performances. I still want to improve but if I get the call it would be great.’’

Over to Trapattoni and his morning call.

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