SOME of what Giovanni Trapattoni likes to call his “famoose names” might be absent for Ireland in Thomond Park this evening but present and very much correct will be Kevin Doyle.
The man who scored the first goal in Cyprus on Saturday had a forgettable time on his last trip to Limerick when he suffered an injury setback as the Irish crashed 3-0 to Australia. But, while others who played in Nicosia have been given a chance to put their feet up, the Wolves man is happy to get some more game time under his belt as he continues to put an injury-ravaged few months behind him.
“The game against Hull last month was my first 90 minutes since March when I was still playing for Reading,” he points out, “so it has been an annoying and frustrating time. Last season, I had just got myself fit for the play-offs and came back for the new season thinking I was fit with Wolves – and then I found I needed a hernia operation.
“But, touch wood, I’ve played 45 minutes against Manchester City, the full 90 against Hull and 75 minutes in Cyprus, and there were no niggles or anything, which is great. I feel reasonably fit and better than I thought I would after missing pre-season.
“But I have worked really hard. When a club pays a lot of money for you they expect big things and it was frustrating for me and the manager (Mick McCarthy) that I was injured straight away. So I am doing my level best to be in form for Wolves and also for Ireland.”
In common with his colleagues, Doyle was delighted with victory after another nervy night in Nicosia.
“It was a relief to get three points considering other results because if we had drawn it would have put us under pressure,” he says. “It keeps us challenging for top spot and, just as importantly, keeps us away from Bulgaria. So the win was vital and if you saw the bench you would have seen the relief on our faces at the end.”
Doyle reckons that the game was about as tough as Ireland expected it to be.
“I don’t know what it looked like from the stands, whether it was fast or slow, but it was physically demanding because of the heat,” he says. “Cyprus are a good team, which we knew from watching their games against Italy – when they should have got a result, and Bulgaria. They seem to cause everyone problems, as we know ourselves from the past, and so it was nice to get a result. It probably was not our best performance but we put to rest some bad performances there in the past.”
But only after Ireland had been given an uncomfortable flash of déjà vu.
Says Doyle: “When they got the equaliser we thought ‘oh God’. We went 1-0 up three years ago – I can’t remember the final score (laughs), and you thought, ‘here we go again’. We went in at half-time thinking ‘oh my God’ but the manager reminded us that it was only 1-1, and you realise there is nothing wrong with that. That calmed us down and encouraged us to try and play football and win the game.”
As Doyle tells it, Trapattoni’s unflappable calm is infectious.
“He was saying ‘calm, calm, slowly, slowly, relax, it’s ok’. He goes through what he is not happy with but he’s not panicking, it’s all calm as if he is not flustered by anything, and it does rub off. He said, ‘we win the next 45 minutes and we win the game’, and that’s the way we went about it.
“It helps when he does that at half-time. I am sure there will be times when he will roast us out of it and I am sure on the big stage he knows what needs to be said and when it needs to be said. But on Saturday, we certainly went out in the second half feeling better than we came in at half-time.”
Not for the first time, of course, the match had unfolded as quite an anxious affair despite Ireland gaining the advantage of an early lead through Doyle’s penalty box opportunism. And the striker admits that not having scored for his country since the opening game in the group, the 2-1 win over Georgia in Mainz a year ago, was playing on his mind by this late stage in the campaign.
“Yes it was,” he says. “You want to be scoring goals as a striker and there has been a lot of pressure on Robbie to make up for that. Which he has done, he is the only one scoring regularly, so it was nice to pitch in with one on Saturday.”
The spoils of victory in Nicosia, however hard-earned, ensure that the Italy clash at Croke Park next month is set up to be a five-star blockbuster.
“It will be the biggest international game for a long time at home,” says Doyle. “I am sure it will be great atmosphere in front of 75,000 people and nerve-racking and exciting all at the same time, knowing that if we get a result we will be one game away from qualifying. They have not been exceptional in the group either, they have struggled against the teams we have struggled against, so I don’t think we have anything to fear.”
Having one significant Italian on Ireland’s side is a real advantage, according to Doyle.
“It helps that the manager knows the players inside out because he has seen them and even worked with them. I am not going to say what he says but he gives us confidence. He will talk about individual players, about how they play, what they do and he will also say, for our own benefit, why Italian teams have been successful. He is very positive with us and believes we can get a result in every game.”
Which is what Ireland have managed to do so far in Group 8 even if, as in Nicosia, it can be tight and tense and involve a lot of nail-biting along the way.
“But it has worked so far,” smiles Doyle. “How long was it when we were in away games and we were giving away late goals and drawing or losing? I think we will take it the way it is at the moment, where we are getting sneaky wins instead of poor draws.”
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