As Alan Kelly was preparing to walk towards the touchline to speak to the media at Gannon Park yesterday, he remarked to team doctor Alan Byrne that it was fantastic that he would be able to report a clean bill of health to the waiting reporters.
At that precise moment, Jon Walters crumpled in a heap on the training pitch after an accidental clash with Shane Long.
“That’s the last time I’ll even think that,” Kelly wryly observed a little later.
Having had his ankle strapped up, Walters himself insisted he was fine before boarding the team bus, while the goalkeeping coach was also at pains to play down the problem.
“He just took a knock,” said Kelly. “A bit of ice and he’ll be alright. It was the intensity of it out there, the lads were going at it hammer and tongs. Glenn (Whelan) had a little bit of an ankle problem when we met up but he was firing on all cylinders out there. You can see how big the game is on Friday — it’s showing in training.”
While a fit Whelan is a definite starter in Stockholm on Friday, Giovanni Trapattoni has already suggested that Walters won’t be in the starting eleven.
Indeed, yesterday the team wearing bibs — often but not always an indication of the manager’s preferred selection — had Robbie Keane and Shane Long upfront, James McClean and Robbie Brady on the flanks, Glenn Whelan and Paul Green (not James McCarthy in midfield) and a central defence of Ciarán Clark and John O’Shea, flanked by Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson, with David Forde between the posts.
But Kelly cautioned against the urge to jump to conclusions.
“Well, there was a different set of bibs yesterday you wouldn’t have seen,” he pointed out. “That’s what the manager’s doing. Yesterday was different, today was different, no doubt tomorrow will be different. Going into training in the stadium on Thursday, I’d say that’s when his decisions will be nailed down.”
So Trapattoni is still considering his options? “I think he is, yeah, I think he is. I think there’s competition for places. The question often gets asked about Wes Hoolahan. I went to see him play for Norwich against Man U and in the first half he absolutely ran the show. There are people like that who are continuing to play well. I’ve mentioned Jeff Hendrick. Conor Sammon is also doing well. All these players are putting themselves in the frame.
“And, for a manager, if players are making you ask questions about who should get in, I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes when you get a set 11, others feel like they’re playing second fiddle but at the moment places are up for grabs and — you saw the intensity of training — lads are realising that if I put a shift in on the training ground and impress the manager then, who knows?”
While Kelly confirmed yesterday that Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot wants to play for Ireland, right now Millwall’s David Forde is the man in possession of the number one shirt and, ahead of the player’s competitive international debut, his goalkeeping coach expressed absolute faith in his ability to fill the gloves of Shay Given.
But while Kelly has no concerns that Forde will freeze psychologically, he admitted that he’d prefer the goalkeeper to experience the intense cold of the Friends Arena in Stockholm with its roof open.
“It would make a difference in terms of the flight of the ball,” he pointed out. “The heat matters because of what it does to the speed of the ball. Hopefully it will be freezing cold and the ball will go a little bit slower.”
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