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Saturday 22 November 2014

Hollow ring to Trap talk

IRELAND boss Giovanni Trapattoni kept a straight face when he dismissed any possibility that he has a problem with Shane Long. The thought never crossed his mind.

It's an old routine Trapattoni uses to deflect difficult questions but it has lost its impact now. The element of slapstick he used to throw in for entertainment value is gone and a great deal of his credibility too.

Trapattoni clearly has a problem with Long as a footballer or he would have played him more often than he has done.

Trapattoni clearly has a personal issue with Long or he would not have poured scorn on him publicly a few months ago when he described him as 'idiotic'.

These are things we know and Trapattoni cannot magic them out of existence merely by saying something different.

But it is hard to get wound up about any of this any more and judging by the ominous noises emanating from Abbotstown about ticket sales for Wednesday's friendly against Greece, many supporters agree.

We could be down to the hardcore support at the Aviva and that has never been more than about 15,000.

The FAI have admitted that they have concentrated ticket sales in the lower tiers, presumably to take the bare look off TV coverage.

This is one of the consequences of that very painful night against the Germans and yesterday, Trapattoni finally seemed to acknowledge how truly terrible it was.

"The defeat by Germany was a disaster," he said when asked about the sharp dip in Ireland's position in the FIFA rankings. You can put that to music Giovanni.

Throw in a verse or two about Poznan and Gdansk and he could call it Trap's Lament, a haunting ballad for the masses to sing the next time a big nation uses Ireland as a punchbag.

But we plough on and mark time until what should be a decisive moment in March when we face Sweden.

It was interesting to note the story doing the rounds about Mick McCarthy and a claim that he has inserted a release clause in his contract with Ipswich should the Ireland job become available.

Interesting and scary. Are we ready to go back to that well yet? Will we ever be? McCarthy seems to think so. Perhaps the infamous FAI leaker, whoever that might be, thinks so too.

In the meantime, Trapattoni made an effort to mend fences with Long. There was even an attempt to talk him up but it rang hollow. The only way to draw a line in the sand on this one is to play him.

Trapattoni intends to do just that against Greece but there was a hint of mischief in his voice when he said that he wants Long to play "for 90 minutes".

Trapattoni seems to believe that he is fighting West Brom for possession of Long but Steve Clarke gave a perfectly reasonable explanation about managing his player through an injury and underlined his common sense approach by releasing him for international duty.

If all of that amounts to Long playing for 90 minutes, few Ireland fans will quibble. He's Ireland's form striker and well worth watching on a damp November night.

Nor will they be upset to see Wes Hoolahan given some time on the pitch but it is hard to escape the feeling that, in his case, this is a pat on the head rather than a pat on the back.

It must be very odd indeed for Hoolahan to share a training pitch with Conor Clifford, a young man with a hotline to Trapattoni by the looks of things.

If lads like Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, James McClean and Hoolahan tended towards bitterness they might justifiably wonder why they had to wait an interminable amount of time for Trapattoni to acknowledge their existence and Clifford, without any obvious reason for it, is suddenly part of the furniture.

Chance

But such is the eccentricity of Trapattoni. Clifford has made no headway at Stamford Bridge and is looking for a club. Hoolahan has been praised almost every week by his manager and neutrals for his work in the Premier League and can't buy an international call-up.

Trapattoni picked him for this game because he "deserves it". It is hard to fathom what it is Clifford has done to earn the same reward.

At least Hoolahan gets his chance but only a half-chance. Trapattoni will give him 45 minutes but hasn't decided which 45 yet.

Hardly a ringing endorsement but an indication that radical change is not on the menu and never will be.

Trapattoni only has eyes for McCarthy now and Hoolahan has about as much chance of featuring in the Brazil 2014 campaign as Stephen Ireland.

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