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Sunday 17 December 2017

Bar too high for McClean

IT was the moment when names such as Bruno Conti and Paolo Rossi spilled from Marco Tardelli's mouth that the scale of the task facing the Jameses, McClean and McCarthy, became obvious.

Tardelli was asked yesterday about his own experience of young tyros elbowing their way into a mature squad in the run-up to major tournament finals during his international career and without having to think too hard, he came up with a pair of Azzurri legends.

“But they were around for two years before they were called up,” said Tardelli, hedging his bets.

The natural response to that, from an Irish point of view is simple. We're not Italy, Marco.

Giovanni Trapattoni and his assistant have another few days in which they must field questions about Ireland's likely lads.

After Thursday, they won't be around much until the circus starts rolling properly in May and, by then, who knows what shape the Ireland squad will be in?

When Tardelli mentioned Conti and Rossi, he highlighted two of the very best produced by Serie A at a time when Italian football ruled the world and comparisons with lads like McCarthy and McClean are, at best, unwieldy.

Ireland produces few players of the class of Conti or Rossi but, in those days, Italy had riches beyond our wildest dreams and could easily introduce new blood from a position of strength.

For every tournament, Italy left players at home who would have walked into any Ireland team but we cannot afford such luxury.

The mantra most Ireland fans follow is ‘good enough, old enough' and this, naturally enough, leads to intense debate any time a real prospect emerges.

McClean's sudden arrival as a newly minted option in the months before Euro 2012 makes the discussion all the more urgent and there are obvious precedents which underline the point that precocious young talent has been fast-tracked before with some success.

In 1990, and an hour before Jack Charlton named his squad final World Cup squad, he pulled Gary Waddock and told him that his efforts over the qualifying phase were not enough to stop fresh-faced Alan McLoughlin from filling the final spot. Three years later in Belfast, Jack got his payback.

Move on to USA 1994 and Jason McAteer, Phil Babb and Gary Kelly, who emerged match-ready and surfed the wave without the need for any experience of the big time.

So there is nothing new about the idea that the young and fearless can and should unseat a worthy but less talented trench-filler – even if it is bitterly cruel on the man that loses out. Such is football.

It is really difficult to get a handle on the exact nature of Trapattoni's thoughts on these players.

Seamus Coleman has not been mentioned much at all and, arguably, he has as good a claim as McCarthy, McClean or,indeed, Shane Duffy.

Circumstances will dictate, first and foremost, how Trapattoni deals with this issue. Duffy's call-up is a response to Richard Dunne's broken collar bone and McCarthy will get prolonged exposure against the Czechs because Darron Gibson is injured and there are slight doubts over Keith Fahey and Keith Andrews.

Trapattoni has been as consistent about McCarthy for some time now as he was inconsistent about the Wigan midfielder during his difficult assimilation into the Ireland senior squad.

Before the first-leg of the Euro 2012 play-off in Tallinn, he told us that McCarthy would get his chance in this game and on each occasion we have met since, he said the same thing.

But it took Trapattoni a long time and a lot of unnecessary megaphone diplomacy to make whatever point it was he was trying to make to McCarthy; time which could have been more usefully spent.

Trapattoni shows no sign of handling the McClean situation any better.

He has yo-yoed between dropping a crash barrier in front of McClean's forward momentum in Waterford when he named this squad to the other extreme and the possibility that he could yet make Euro 2012 trip.

But whether we like it or not, that's the reality Trapattoni has to deal with.

If Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady both pulled up lame between now and Poland, Trapattoni would waste no time sending out the call to McClean.

The suspicion remains, however, that nothing less than an injury to the men he has already selected in his mind will move him to change his thinking.

He has set the bar so high that McClean probably needs to rattle in another half dozen goals for Sunderland and play every game until season's end to have any chance.

In fact, Trapattoni gives the distinct impression that such an outcome would leave him with a problem he could do without.

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