SUCH is the happy mood in the Irish camp with the arrival of Giovanni Trapattoni that Robbie Keane, a man who has not always enjoyed the most cordial of relations with the press, didn’t miss a beat when he was asked if, as some newspaper reports had it, he’d missed the Irish training trip to Portugal in order to attend his stag do in Las Vegas.
Explaining that he had been given permission both by Spurs and Ireland to take a much-needed rest, he remarked that what he does in his own time is his own business.
But, then, with a wide smile, he offered one point of clarification: “I wasn’t in Las Vegas,” he said. “The last time I saw a slot machine was in Bray.” Keane sang from the same hymn-sheet as the rest of the Irish squad when it came to praising Trapattoni’s infectious enthusiasm.
The language issue reminded him of his own time with Inter Milan in Italy, he admitted, but noted that whereas back then he was a foreigner in their country, now they were foreigners in his. “But at least I know that Marco (Tardelli) can’t get rid of me from the Irish team,” he added to more laughter.
While all the talk so far has been about what Trap can do for the Irish players, Keane acknowledges that of no less importance is what the Irish players can do for Trap.
“Football is about winning games, no matter who is in charge,” he said. “As players we can only be given instructions but it’s up to us when we go out onto the pitch. But when you have someone with the knowledge and the experience of the boss, that’s only going to help us, especially the younger players.
But every player is always learning, no matter how old. I’m still learning now. You ask Richard Dunne, Shay Given — they’ll say the same thing. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot off this manager, as I’ve learned off other managers.”
Stephen Kelly, the Birmingham City full-back who starts tonight, offered an insight into what we might expect from Ireland under Trap. And it sounds like it won’t be dramatically different from the approach we’ve seen before.
“At the start there was a bit of a communication barrier but, as he says, football speaks one language and once you get on the training pitch he tells you what to do and gets things across,” said Kelly. “He wants every individual to know what to do when they go on the field and that is really prominent for him.
“He is big on pressing and pushing up and getting tight and closing people down.
“You’ve seen the Italian league and a lot of it is keeping the ball and passing the ball across the back and having time on the ball, but he wants that typical Irish style of pressing and putting teams under pressure which suits us and is the way we are used to playing in England.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Glenn Whelan, who makes his first senior appearance tonight, is looking forward to literally capping an already memorable season with Stoke City.
“I always said that if I was not playing well for Stoke then I wouldn’t get a chance with the Ireland team,” he said. “So getting promoted with Stoke has helped a lot. Fingers crossed it will help me next year too, being in the Premier League.”
And now he gets to walk out on to the Croke Park turf.
“It’s definitely been a dream of mine from when I was a little boy to get a chance to play for Ireland, to put the jersey on,” he said.
“So this be unbelievable for me,” he added.
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