ANDORRA at home must be the kind of fixture fringe players drool over but those accustomed to sitting on Giovanni Trapattoni’s bench know better than to expect a bout of musical chairs when it comes to the first 11.
So it proved yesterday when the Italian all but announced an unchanged line-up, from that which started in Yerevan, for tonight’s European Championship Group B qualifier and what will be the Aviva Stadium’s first competitive fixture.
“He does like a settled team and you would not blame him as a manager,” said Hull City’s Paul McShane who has built up a solid collection of caps under the Italian, despite some less than stellar displays. “If I was a manager I would like a settled team.”
McShane watched Friday’s defeat of Armenia from his apartment after picking up a hamstring injury in a Carling Cup tie against Brentford. He joined up with the squad over the weekend and is ready, if required this evening.
Whatever about the agonies of watching a game from the dugout, the former Sunderland man found the view from his sofa to be twice as bad. However it gave him yet another vantage point from which to run the rule over the changes Trapattoni has wrought since his arrival. McShane was there during the last campaign when Ireland let a number of leads slip and the ability of the side to hold on to a 1-0 advantage in eastern Europe would appear to suggest that lessons have been learned and maturity is growing.
“I definitely think so. It’s the points he puts across to us in meetings. He wants us defensively sound with the wingers double marking. If you notice, the wingers do a lot of the work for full-backs so as a full-back it’s great. You sort of slow the play down and double mark. In this way, he focuses on the shape of the team and when we watch videos he says ‘you should be here at this time’. Every inch counts in the game and winning the ball back as soon as we can gives us a great chance. He is very resilient.”
Resilience is a commodity those outside the starting line-up are having to show in abundance. None more so than Andy Keogh, whose substitute appearance four days ago was very much in keeping with the cameo roles he has played in winning most of his other 14 caps.
Keogh and McShane have probably discussed their situations many a time in the past. The defender is godfather to his international team-mate’s daughter Lyla and the pair grew up playing schoolboy football together in Dublin. It seems like an eternity ago now but Keogh scored the first goal of the Trapattoni era when Serbia were defeated 1-0 in Croke Park 16 months ago. He has found minutes and goals equally elusive on international duty since.
“Sometimes, through bad form for myself or other players doing better, it can’t always be the case (that he plays). Every player in the squad is looking to play but sometimes you’ve just got to help your teammates out on the pitch.”
Like McShane, Keogh now finds himself competing in the Championship rather than the Premier League but, while his pal’s demotion was enforced through Hull’s relegation, his own was voluntary.
Starved of minutes at Wolves, Keogh has no qualms about his move to Cardiff City on a loan deal.
“It was doing me no good,” he said of his time at Wolves. “I was getting bored. I was coming on here and there but I wanted to get out and get going. It’s something fresh and Cardiff is the right option because they are in with a chance of getting back to the Premiership.”
The prospect of linking up with Craig Bellamy in the Welsh capital is clearly one that excites him.
“It was one of the reasons I went there. The club showed their intent with that signing and then a few more followed. That made my mind up. He’s (Bellamy) a great player. Last season he was tremendous at Man City.
“I don’t know why Man City would let one of their best players go from last season but it’s going to be enjoyable to play with him. He has his own reasons. I don’t know them but I know he’s from Cardiff and his family lives there. A happy player can sometimes be a better player.”
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