EARLY September. A time for new beginnings in schoolyards the length and breadth of the country and in the similarly boyish surroundings of professional dressing rooms across Europe.
Players have already become accustomed to the changing hierarchies at their respective clubs in England, Scotland and further afield in recent weeks and now that process is being mirrored at international level.
Not least in the make-up of the Irish midfield which will line out in Yerevan tomorrow, one which will be radically different to that which kicked off the side’s last qualifying campaign against Georgia in Mainz.
Of the quartet that lined out almost two years to the day in Germany, Stephen Reid has retired from the international arena, Stephen Hunt is a long-term injury absentee and Aiden McGeady has been hampered by an ankle injury.
McGeady’s participation tomorrow is by no means assured, even though he was declared fit yesterday prior to departure, as Spartak Moscow’s new signing has been used more as a replacement in recent times.
All of which leaves us with Glenn Whelan.
Liam Lawrence may be older and McGeady may have more caps but Whelan is the main man in the middle of the park for Ireland as they get their European campaign underway.
The feeling is that, with Keith Andrews injured and Darron Gibson failing to progress to the extent Trapattoni and Alex Ferguson would have liked, Paul Green will act as his wing-man.
Trapattoni all but confirmed that yesterday.
There is a nice bit of symmetry in that. Prior to Georgia, Whelan had just three friendly caps to his name. So, too, has the Derby County midfielder who came to prominence against Paraguay and Algeria last May.
“You can tell with Paul, knowing him and playing with him a bit, that he always had the ability to kick on and do really well,” said Whelan. “He got his move to Derby which has helped him come on leaps and bounds. He is doing really well for himself.”
Trapattoni’s rigid adherence to 4-4-2 has met with some grumbles but it is one of the system’s advantages that unheralded players like Green – and Whelan before him – have been able to slip seamlessly into the side.
Sean St Ledger and Liam Lawrence are others to have fashioned a regular niche in the Italian’s plans and it is that sort of trend which means Whelan won’t feel the need to put an arm over Green’s shoulder tomorrow.
“We have our own jobs to do and you don’t want to be going up and putting too much pressure on them if it is Paul. Knowing Paul, the way he is he’ll just take it like any other game and it won’t affect him.”
Whelan and Green have enjoyed remarkably similar careers graduating as they have from long apprenticeships in the lower leagues through to international stardom.
Green saw just how much attention an Irish career can generate when Celtic sniffed around for his signature last summer and Whelan has experienced similar perks having forced his way into the Stoke City side on the back of his emergence with his country.
“There were times when I wasn’t playing for my club but was playing for the country, which is not always the case, but you still need to be playing for your club week in, week out to try and impress the manager and stay in his plans.
“The experience of playing in the last campaign against some top nations has helped me. I know I have a lot of improving still to do but, in terms of experience, it will keep me in good stead.”
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