AND the big news from the squad announcement for the games against Russia and Slovakia is that, well, there’s no big news really.
Before yesterday’s press conference, Giovanni Trapattoni and Jack Charlton exchanged warm words and posed for photographs together in the lobby of the Clarion Airport Hotel in Dublin. Later, Il Trap admitted that he and Big Jack shared some personality traits. Clenching a fist and smiling, the Italian said: “Jack was tough. I like him. I follow him.”
Certainly, Trapattoni was following the practice of the former Ireland manager yesterday by naming a squad which was wholly lacking in the element of surprise – one all but identical, in fact, to the panel he chose for the games against Armenia and Andorra, barring the inclusion of striker Cillian Sheridan from the off instead of as the late call-up he was for the opening two qualifiers.
So no room then for Everton’s Seamus Coleman or Wigan’s James McCarthy or Celtic’s Anthony Stokes, all of whom received words of praise from the manager but who will clearly have to wait at least until the November friendly against Norway for a chance to feature in the senior team. And Trapattoni makes no apologies for that.
“I read in newspapers that Trapattoni doesn’t believe in the young – no!” he declared. “But a qualifier is a qualifier. These are not friendly games. Or U21 games. These are senior internationals, qualifiers for the finals of the European Championships.”
More than that, he reckons next month’s back-to-back matches in Dublin and Zilina will go a long way to defining the outcome of the group.
“Now begins the most important time of our qualification campaign, with Russia and Slovakia,” he said.
“These will be a very tough games, particularly the Russian game because, as I will say to our players, we will meet a team hungry and angry as well. It’s a team that lost at home, in Moscow, against Slovakia. So we must prepare for this game with 110% concentration.”
That includes Richard Dunne, currently struggling with a knee injury. “I spoke with him yesterday and I am confident and he is confident that he will be ready to be with us,” said the boss.
However, the prognosis on Keith Andrews is much less optimistic with the manager including him in the panel but conceding that the Blackburn man is in a race against time to recover from the groin strain which forced him to miss the games against Armenia and Andorra.
Derby County’s Paul Green was his replacement in both, with Trapattoni insisting criticism of the new Irish midfielder’s performances was misplaced.
“I read that Green was given a bad mark against Andorra – five by one of the papers – when he was one of the best on the pitch,” he said. “It is a different opinion. For me, he was everywhere, helping his team-mates. When he lost the ball, he tried immediately to win it back. He was very good at pressing against the opposition. It’s like, for those of you old enough to remember, Nobby Stiles. He was aggressive and very important for the England team. We are not Real Madrid or Manchester United. We have the best Irish players for our situation. The right attitude, the right mentality is important. Russia, in midfield, have players who play very well and we must decide how best to meet that challenge.”
Once again, the manager stressed that he had no qualms about relying on Shay Given as his number one, even if the ‘keeper’s prospects at Eastlands seem to be going from bad to worse. But the manager is convinced that Given won’t lack for openings elsewhere, not least in Italy.
“We have already, me and Marco (Tardelli), spoken with clubs in Italy where he is held in high regard by many,” he said. “But we can only inform them, we cannot force it.”
Of course, this is not for the first time Trapattoni has advanced the goalkeeper’s cause in his homeland so it’s not exactly hold-the-front-page stuff. Similarly, when the manager appeared to suggest that he himself was the recipient of an approach from an Italian club as recently as two or three months ago – and, again, this has been a recurring subplot – he was quick to add that he dismissed the idea because of his commitment to a job which he believes is only halfway complete.
“I could change, but I do not wish to change because I believe this team deserves more and can do more,” he said.
Ireland squad: Given (Manchester City), Westwood (Coventry), Murphy (Scunthorpe); O’Shea (Man Utd), Dunne (Aston Villa), St Ledger (Preston), Cunningham (Man City), Foley (Wolves), Kelly (Fulham), McShane (Hull), O’Dea (Ipswich); Kilbane (Hull), Andrews (Blackburn), Whelan (Stoke), Gibson (Man Utd), Green (Derby), Lawrence (Portsmouth), McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Keogh (Cardiff), Duff (Fulham), Fahey (Birmingham), Treacy (Preston); Keane (Tottenham), Doyle (Wolves), Long (Reading), Sheridan (CSKA Sofia).
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