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Wednesday 23 August 2017

O'Neill leaves Trap behind

Ireland squad transformed since Euro 2012 finals collapse

Darren Watson Photo: Getty
Darren Watson Photo: Getty

When Martin O'Neill sits down in the dying days of May to finalise his squad for France, he will be reviewing a group of players which has changed utterly since Giovanni Trapattoni did the same thing four years ago.

A glance at Trapattoni's final 23 shows just how radically Ireland's senior international squad has been reshaped by O'Neill and by necessity

The only area that hasn't really changed is at the business end up front. Trapattoni travelled with Robbie Keane, Jon Walters, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Simon Cox and O'Neill's pick won't be far off that.

Cox won't make it but Daryl Murphy, finally hitting some form after a blank season, will and the only issue for O'Neill will be whether he opts for an extra midfielder in his squad which would probably rule out Doyle.

Everything looks the same in the goalkeeping area but O'Neill's circumstances are very different.

Shay Given was untouchable as Ireland's No. 1 under Trapattoni and that applied even when he wasn't fully fit in Poland. His knee was the problem then and his knee is the problem now.

O'Neill has Darron Randolph, Rob Elliott and Kieren Westwood, all fit, playing football and all a lot younger.

If there is a choice to be made, it will likely be between Given and Westwood which would be more than ironic for the Sheffield Wednesday man considering the amount of time he spent during his Irish career waiting in line.

The big change in personnel from Trapattoni's time to this is in the defence.

O'Neill inherited just two of the players - John O'Shea and Stephen Ward - from the squad picked for Poland which had already lost a legend

Richard Dunne has gone to ground since his swansong in Poznan against Italy and unlike many of his more celebrated generation, has avoided the lure of cameras and easy money in the pundit arena.

His decision to retire after Euro 2012 left Trapattoni and then O'Neill with the same problem. How to fill a gap which was the preserve of a man who could take on the best strikers in the world and beat them on his own?

Richard Keogh has emerged as O'Shea's strongest partner while Sean St Ledger, Darren O'Dea and Stephen Kelly all fading out of the picture.

Ward's is a great story of dogged survival. Many wrote him off after what can only be described as a nightmare experience in Poland and again after Trapattoni final retired.

He has fought his way into a Burnley team on a promotion charge and if fit he will travel.

Midfield will be the big battleground and it's another area which O'Neill has had to reconstruct.

Damien Duff retired after Euro 2012, Keith Andrews eventually gave in to persistent injury last summer and Stephen Hunt is plugging away at Coventry in the twilight of his career.

Darron Gibson has hardly kicked a ball since the finals and Paul Green's remarkable rise under Trapattoni was match by an equally steep fall in his club career in the last few years.

Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady and James McClean will make O'Neill's selection but when you add in James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan, it is difficult to see what wriggle room O'Neill has for people like Gibson, Harry Arter, Stephen Quinn and Alan Judge.

O'Neill has transformed the Ireland squad in just 18 months and proof of that will come when he announces his final squad on May 31.

Half the names from 2012 will be missing and half the remainder might not get a kick of the ball in France.

By any standard, that's some turnaround

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