WOULDN’T it be something if Simon Cox walked away from the Aviva Stadium tonight with his chest out and the memory of scoring the goal which guaranteed Ireland a place in the Euro 2012 play-offs fresh in his mind>
At the weekend, Stephen Hunt spoke well about the fact that the often half-empty stadium is virgin territory for heroes and that the place needs an Alan McLoughlin or Jason McAteer moment to add lustre and a layer of memory to the still shiny superstructure by osmosis.
Hunt fancies his chances of making a mark of such importance. He wants to create a new snapshot for the pantheon of great Irish football moments; an image which instantly brings a warm feeling to the heart.
Nobody would refuse Hunt the possibility or right to deliver on his |premonition.
His heart is pure in this regard and his desire to be the first man to really make the new Lansdowne Road dance displays imagination and the same motivation felt by everyone who ever dreamed the dream of scoring the |winner in a World Cup final.
Hunt has behaved impeccably throughout his time as an Ireland squad member. Over-enthusiasm is his worst crime and Giovanni Trapattoni has tagged him as an impact player; someone who can quickly get into the pace of a game and make a difference.
But Trapattoni has handed the opportunity to make a nation rise up in joy to someone else. Through fate, Robbie Keane’s ill-fortune and a manager’s devotion to his system, Cox has been given the chance to light up |Lansdowne Road.
Unlikely? Improbable? Judging by the way his inclusion over Shane Long has been tweeted, blogged, commented upon and even ridiculed in every two-bit forum for discussion on the fate of Ireland’s senior international team, there’s no chance that will happen.
But here’s the thing. Shane Long is a fine young man and a favourite of media and fan alike. His hurling, Tipperary background and the fact that he is now knocking out a serious wage as a Premier League front-line striker make him box office in a very Irish way.
But Long has not played particularly well for Ireland as a starter, and his
best moments have mostly come in friendly games which have no impact on the public consciousness beyond the pub in the immediate aftermath and a few newspaper testimonials.
More to the point, Trapattoni made this same choice before Ireland travelled to Skopje in June and came away with three absolutely crucial points.
Cox has been selected by Trapattoni because he is the closest thing to Robbie Keane he has in his squad and he said so very clearly at his pre-match press-conference.
It is therefore completely logical that Trapattoni should select Cox, even if he is a rung below Long at West Brom. Trap built his team around Keane and not just by giving the Garth Brooks tribute singer the captain’s armband.
Most Ireland fans believe that Long deserves his chance and some of the finest minds in Irish football agree.
On these pages, John Giles makes the case for Long to start ahead of Cox and his thoughts would be echoed by pretty much all of the ex-pros who write and speak about Ireland for a |living.
But Trapattoni has a very clear idea in mind about what he wants from every player he puts onto the field and if Long does not fit the profile he wants for a huge game against Armenia, there’s little point in dumping on Cox simply because he’s the beneficiary.
On paper, there is no real contest. Long has been growing in stature steadily since he joined West Brom and on more than one occasion in this new season, he has been unplayable.
Shrewd judges believe that he is developing into a real player who is on the threshold of a great career. Add to that the fact that he is a nice kid with a winning personality and it is easy to see why his exclusion from Trapattoni’s team has raised so much heat.
But think again. When Long’s hopes of winning a Premier League ticket with Reading fell apart in May, he suffered a major psychological crash and Trapattoni immediately sidelined him.
Just weeks after Cox completed the paperwork he needed to become an Irish passport holder and with Kevin Doyle out of the picture, Trapattoni picked him to partner Keane in Macedonia, and not just because Long was having a hard time dealing with the fact that he was flagged as the main man for Reading in the Championship play-off final and didn’t perform.
While Long was playing in the play-off, Trapattoni paired Cox with Keane for the Nations Cup fixture against Northern Ireland and stuck with that line-up against Scotland and Macedonia. Ireland won those three games 5-0, 1-0 and 2-0.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Cox has never played badly in green and his inclusion at Long’s expense might be a surprise but no reason to doubt him against Armenia.
All the signs point to a nerve-racking night ahead of us. Armenia’s lust for goals has spread a wave of anxiety ahead of them and maybe Hunt is right. Maybe we will need a hero. Why not Cox?
PREDICTION: Ireland to win 2-1 – Cox to score.
Rep of Ireland: Given (Villa), O’Shea (Sunderland), St Ledger (Leicester), Dunne (Villa), Kelly (Fulham); Duff (Fulham), Andrews (Ipswich), Whelan (Stoke), McGeady (Spartak Moscow); Cox (West Brom), Doyle (Wolves).
Armenia: (probable) Berezovski (FC Khimki); Hovseryan (Pyunik), Mkoyan (FC Mika), Aleksanyan (Sanat Naft), Hayrapetyan (Legia); Mkrtchyan (Metallurg Donetsk), Edigaryan (FC Banants); Mkhitaryan (Shaktar Donetsk), Pizelli (Metallurg Donetsk), Ghazaryan (Metallurg Donetsk); Movsisyan (FC Krasnodor).