It was a sight which was almost as welcome and just about as rare as the sun blazing from a deep blue sky over Watford’s training ground yesterday: Richard Dunne back on a football pitch.
Admittedly, the big man wasn’t actually playing a match, instead restricting himself to jogging, passing and heading under the watchful eye of physio Ciarán Murray while, a few short yards away, the defender’s Irish colleagues were engaged in a full-blown training session.
But it might be a whole lot sooner than expected that Dunne is finally kicking a ball in anger again for the first time since he played against Italy at last summer’s European Championship finals, following which he has endured a challenging and at times torrid 12 months of recovery from a groin injury which required no less than three operations.
The good news from Giovanni Trapattoni yesterday was that, while Dunne won’t play a part against England at Wembley on Wednesday, he could get on the pitch for at least some of next Sunday’s friendly against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium. But the manager is also anxious that the player doesn’t risk another setback, given the length of time he has been out of the game as well as the fact that he is being let go by Aston Villa.
“I spoke with him and clarified the situation with him,” said Trapattoni. “He has not played for a year and he is in a delicate situation without a club so it’s vital he does not make a new injury. That could be very dangerous for him. We also need Richard in the future. I said to him, ‘We respect you and want to help you, so let us take it step by step and wait until we can see you are ready.’ When we think he is ready we can choose the moment, maybe for the last 30 minutes of the game against Georgia. But against England, no, that game will be too competitive.”
Trapattoni is also clearly hopeful that, in due course, Dunne can make a full return to the World Cup qualifying squad, to which end the Italian said that he has no preference about where the Dubliner might end up playing his club football next season, even if it’s outside England. “Richard is Richard and his experience is important to us,” he said.
But as to the possibility of the veteran making his competitive comeback against the Faroe Islands, the manager stressed: “Only if he is 100.”
Trapattoni also made it clear yesterday that he fully accepts Anthony Pilington’s withdrawal from the squad on the grounds of injury, the player’s club Norwich having pulled him out because they feel the winger needs to give a troublesome knee some rest at the end of a long season. The fact that the player is getting married next Friday had raised some eyebrows about his latest absence but Trapattoni insisted that he believed this was not an issue and added that he has “no doubts” about Pilkington’s long-term commitment to playing for Ireland.
“He will have other opportunities in the near future,” said the manager.
Despite Pilkington’s absence, Trapattoni said that he still plans to play a 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 system against England, which means that Wes Hoolhan should get his expected start. Who will start as the lone striker is not yet clear, given that Robbie Keane only arrives in London from Los Angeles tomorrow and the manager will want to see if he is suffering any fatigue after a long trip and the rigours of another club game. It was Keane’s wish, said Trapattoni, that he make himself available for the England game and while LA Galaxy have imposed no conditions on the player’s release, it seems a gentleman’s agreement will see him return to his club after the World Cup qualifier against the Faroes and so miss the friendly against Spain in New York on June 11.
In other squad news, Paul Green has been forced out with a hamstring problem which means a return to the squad — his first call-up since San Marino in 2007 — for Hull City’s Stephen Quinn. Describing the player as “a good dynamic” midfielder, Trapattoni also hinted that he could get his long-awaited first cap at Wembley in a game in which the manager expects to make some six changes over the course of the 90 minutes.
Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson are nursing calf strains while James McCarthy reported a tight hamstring at the end of training yesterday, though Trapattoni appeared confident that all three would be available for selection against England.
Ireland squad: Forde, Westwood, Randolph, O’Shea, St Ledger, Delaney R Keogh, Wilson, Coleman, Kelly, O’Dea, McShane, Dunne, Whelan, McCarthy, Quinn, Hendrick, McGeady, Pilkington, McClean, Brady, Meyler, A Keogh, Keane, Long, Sammon, Walters, Cox, Hoolahan.
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