SOME things you just couldn’t make up. When Ireland went down 5-2 to Cyprus three years ago, Eddie Nolan was on U17 duties in Macedonia, the scene of a previous away day nightmare.
It was a 3-2 defeat in Skopje that had prompted then manager Mick McCarthy to introduce a yellow jersey for the team’s worst trainer with the legend ‘I Had a Macedonia’ emblazoned across the chest.
Bad that night back in 1997 pales in comparison with what happened in Nicosia nine years later and the last thing anyone wanted after that was any sort of reminder of just how bad it was.
The changes since have been little short of monumental. Steve Staunton has been replaced by Giovanni Trapattoni and only eight of the 18 players in that match day squad are involved ahead of this week’s return trip.
Nolan is one of the new faces to have benefited. His first cap came against Nigeria at Craven Cottage in May and he enjoyed half an hour towards the end against Australia in Thomond Park last month.
“It was a great honour, topping off the season by getting my first full cap,” he said. “When I got called in I was a bit shocked, but I’ve done enough for the manager to keep faith in me so I’m happy to be in the squad.”
If Trapattoni is to be believed, the young Preston North End defender is already more than a fringe squad member. The Italian has mentioned him with growing frequency in media outings in recent weeks.
With Kevin Kilbane showing increasing signs of fallibility at left-back in recent games, particularly at home to Bulgaria and against the Australians at Thomond Park, Trap’s kind words are understandable.
Like Kilbane, Nolan is a converted left-back. A right-footer, his favoured position would be in the centre of defence although his Preston manager Alan Irvine believes he has some maturing to do before he can relocate.
“I’d like to see myself in the centre at both club and international long-term but I don’t mind playing left-back. I played centre-back when I was younger and liked playing there but since, Blackburn and Preston, I’ve had to move to full-back.”
It would be a gamble to throw Nolan in from the off in Cyprus but Trapattoni has already seen one Preston youngster handle himself with aplomb in similar circumstances after Sean St Ledger’s competitive bow in Sofia.
Nolan has had no indication from Trapattoni as to what he have in mind for Nolan over the next few days and he isn’t the type to wax lyrical about what it would mean to him to start.
An almost monosyllabic interviewee, he goes only as far as to say that he would “love it”. One thing that may stand against him, aside from his youth and inexperience, when the team is being picked is his lack of game time this season.
He started 20 times for North End in the previous campaign but so far his contribution has been limited to one appearance as a substitute in the championship and a start against Leicester City in the Carling Cup.
“I’ve been in and out of the team so far. I just have to keep working at it. The manager has a bit of rotation as there’s a few new players and it’s a much better squad than last year.”
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