Conservative approach not confined to Trap tenure

It is a continuing conceit of the human condition that allows us believe we are regularly blazing trails.

The reality, of course, is that most of what we do is a retread of actions and events performed countless times before and, in that, football is no exception.

If there was one topic that flowed freely through the arteries of Ballsbridge last night it was that of James McClean and the young Sunderland winger’s chances of making Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad for the big dance in Poland.

Trawl through the archives from the springtime phoney wars of 1988, ’90, ’94 and 2002 and evenings like last night were perforated with similar thoughts although heaven knows there is little else to occupy the mind on such ‘occasions’.

So, while Giovanni Trapattoni’s stated loyalty to the tried and trusted troops who ended Ireland’s 10-year wait for a meaningful summer schedule has been criticised, it is a line that has been pedalled previously by his predecessors.

“These games are not trials for the European Championships,” said Jack Charlton ahead of his side’s first prep match against Romania 24 years and a lifetime ago. “I already know the team I want to play in Germany.

“It’s a question of using these warm-up games for the benefit of some of the younger players who will be travelling with us and who, all going well, are going to form an important part of the national squad in the years to come.”

Charlton issued other utterances on the importance of maintaining a winning habit – sound familiar? — while McCarthy found a similar degree of comfort in leaning on the faces who came through a World Cup play-off against Iran in 2001.

“I said from the start that I can’t believe that the players who walked off the pitch six months ago in Tehran suddenly became unwanted and not good enough to travel,” he reasoned at the time and he was as good as his word.

There were no bolters in McCarthy’s group of 23. Clinton Morrison was the nearest thing to a wild card and he had already played half a dozen times for the Republic with three of those appearances coming in the white heat of the qualifiers.

Charlton, despite his reputation for stubbornness, proved far more amenable to giving it a lash and had fewer objections to looking at players like McClean whose emergence on the international stage post-dated the hard graft of more established faces.

The squad Charlton named for West Germany included Chris Morris, John Sheridan and David Kelly, none of whom had played a part in the journey there as well. Chris Hughton and Tony Cascarino made it in after lengthy periods out of favour.

Sheridan had been handed his debut just months beforehand and after a mere 45 minutes with Leeds United. The winger Mark Kelly – remember him? — was given a start against Yugoslavia on the back of three runs off the bench for Portsmouth.

Charlton’s squad was more predictable two years later even if it did include the dramatic late substitution of an uncapped Alan McLoughlin for Gary Waddock as well as Bernie Slavin who made it on the back of 155 minutes of friendly fare.

It was another four years before the flat-capped Englishman made his most audacious break with the past by putting his faith in the Three Amigos – Gary Kelly, Phil Babb and Jason McAteer – on the back of historic successes in Hanover and Amsterdam.

Thing is, the scope for a repeat isn’t what it used to be. Charlton had five games to fine-tune his plans before his three tournaments, McCarthy had four while Trapattoni has to make do with last night and another pair against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary.

That last run-out falls on the far side of Uefa’s squad deadline and, though McClean finally made his entrance with a dozen minutes to go, it became increasingly apparent last night that there will hardly be One Amigo in Poland this summer let alone three.

No doubt McClean, Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy will be consoled by declarations of promising careers to come and they could do worse than take note of a 19-year old Steve Staunton whose first call-up came too late for a free seat to Germany in ’88.

Like Stan, their time will surely come. Just not yet.


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