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Monday 1 September 2014

Greece game won't loosen Trap chains

WHAT is so maddening is the precious time wasted by Giovanni Trapattoni while he sat complacently in his bunker and decided that he was doing a good job.

So many games have slipped away while Seamus Coleman waited patiently and James McCarthy kicked his heels.

Hundreds of minutes of international football ticked by while Wes Hoolahan scratched his head and wondered what he had to do to catch a break.

There are many more. Spare a thought, in particular, for Andy and Steven Reid, classy footballers retired from international football for no reason other than the eccentricity of a 70-year-old Italian legend of management.

Last night against Greece, Ireland played a bit of football for a while and then switched off. It will be hard to shake off the straitjacket but it will happen if the players are allowed to try.

They switched on again when Hoolahan appeared; busy and anxious to impress. He shuttled in and out of the space between the two Greek centre-backs and the halfway line and suddenly new possibilities opened up in an area rarely visited by Trapattoni's system.

It closed again pretty quickly. The Greek defenders were big lads and knew how to defend a goal lead away from home but the signs were there that Trapattoni has material to work with if he chooses to follow a new path.

Seamus Coleman can lead the way. It's as if a woodpecker lands on his back every time he gets the ball and propels him forward with sharp taps on the back of his head.

He lowers into a lurching gallop and takes off.

He has the panache to nutmeg defenders, the pace to beat them and it is sinful that he is only now getting to show us what he can do at this level.

Likewise McCarthy, who is still rising to meet the standard required but is getting there quickly after a long wait.

To be fair to Trapattoni, there is a shyness about him which is part of his personality and he must overcome if he is to be the player he can be.

But it is no surprise that a lad who had to build a shield around himself and his family to deal with serious abuse over a prolonged period would be wary of the outside world.

The last thing he needed was an international manager with a big mouth and a limited understanding of the road McCarthy travelled to get to Ireland.

Trapattoni is a convert now, though, and we can be thankful for small mercies. He is getting ready to drop one of Glenn Whelan or Keith Andrews and that would be a true sign that change is in the air.

Midfield is becoming very crowded and he must pick four from Aiden McGeady, Robbie Brady, McClean, McCarthy, David Meyler, Whelan, Andrews and Darron Gibson, if he's available.

Ciaran Clark - another who should have 15 caps under his belt by now - showed why he is trusted by Paul Lambert, his boss at Aston Villa, and underlined the fact that he hasn't been by Trapattoni until now.

From a purely practical point of view, Clark's solid performance was reassuring placed alongside John O'Shea's decline.

O'Shea's international form is worrying. He stepped aside and watched Jose Holebas nip one into the corner without raising a leg last night. One chance and one goal. Little details.

Ireland can ill afford one of the few remaining senior men in Trapattoni's squad to be in a slump. O'Shea knows he has not played well in 2012.

Simon Cox won't look back at 2012 with fond memories either.

He started the year as a bright young thing, a better player than his critics were prepared to admit, and ends it as a bit of an afterthought.

Trapattoni keeps picking him but it is harder and harder to see what he is supposed to be doing and what position he has been told to occupy.

Cox did a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything against Greece and failed in his primary role when presented with a free header. He hobbled off with an undefined ankle injury and it could be a while before we see him again.

In Trapattoni's system he was deemed to have value but, if we are moving on, he is at the back of a queue.

It will be a big leap for Trapattoni to follow through and abandon his system in favour of something more adventurous.

Whether we like it or not, every bone in his body is telling him to hold firm and stick with what he feels is a tried-and-trusted system.

The most revealing moment of the last week was when Trapattoni agreed with Whelan's assessment of Ireland's midfield weakness.

The way Whelan sees it, fingers should be pointed in a wider arc when blame is being divided up, which presumably means both team-mates and the management.

As Trapattoni sees it, Whelan and Andrews were overrun in Poland because they didn't get enough help from those around them.

He may drop one of them and make room for McCarthy but he will preach the same message on the training ground. The system stays.

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