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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Opportunity knocked

PERFECT chance for Trap to try out new players is being let go to waste

Sometimes you have to laugh. There we all were agonising over the Jameses and whether precocious talent could yet be grafted onto Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland while the man himself was orbiting another planet entirely.

Despite a steady patter of apparently definite statements tagging this February Euro 2012 warm-up against the Czech Republic as the moment when Trap would put aside his script and give youth a fling, he's miles ahead of us all -- or perhaps we're miles ahead of him.

Either way, Trapattoni gave the reins a jerk yesterday when he named his team and listed all but two of the men who will face Croatia to take on the Czech Republic.

Presuming Richard Dunne and Kevin Doyle's future fitness (nothing less can be contemplated in Dunne's case), Ireland will start against Croatia as follows: Given; O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady; Keane, Doyle.

Trapattoni picked Shane Long to partner Keane against the Czechs and offered us a glimpse of what he has really been thinking about while we worked ourselves into a knot about James McCarthy, first, and then James McClean.

Trap wants no truck with wild talk about new players, no matter how promising they are and he brought everyone back into line with a reminder of core principles and the primacy of his system above the needs of individual players.

Instead of a platform for McCarthy, McClean and Seamus Coleman to strut their stuff, the Czech game will allow Trapattoni to tinker with his system by dropping Robbie Keane deeper and using Long as his foil.

This seems to be Trapattoni's only concession to the fact that Russia and Slovakia, playing the kind of football Ireland will see a lot of in June, ripped his system asunder during the qualifying group and did so by soaking midfield with bodies and ball-players.

If the notion of moving Keane back into a deeper position to help out in midfield seems familiar, it should be.

It was the best Trap had to offer after Russia cut loose in Lansdowne Road and it didn't work very well in the return game in Moscow; hence the hunger to see James McCarthy get a chance in midfield.

Keane is at his best in the deeper position when he is prompting attacks, slipping clever passes through crowded channels.

Innovation

But Trapattoni will see this as a defensive adjustment rather than an attacking innovation and that is disappointing.

It is not a big reach to suggest that Keane could be in the form of his life by the time the finals swing around.

If he looked particularly good playing in the position Trapattoni has identified for him during his recent and brief spell at Aston Villa, it may have something to do with the fact that Keane is as fit and fresh as he has been for a long, long time.

He has grown to be a formidable captain and he now has the form to go with the stripes. June cannot come quickly enough for him.

In the end, Trapattoni's word is law and his priorities the most important ones. How well Keane plays and is playing is of infinitely more significance to him than McClean's mercurial form.

But does he have to be so obdurate about it? McCarthy has been dangled on a string for more than two years now. He was galloped into the Emirates back in 2010 to seal a commitment he had already given and then promptly reduced in the ranks as a reward.

How different it might have been if McCarthy's assimilation into the squad had run more smoothly and in February 2012, the kid had a dozen international caps, some of them won in the heat of competitive football.

Or if Coleman's almost joyful and definitely buccaneering arrival had been encouraged with more game time.

Ultimately, when Trapattoni no longer bothers to hide his irritation with the circular subject of Ireland's young talent, he uses the excuse of time or rather lack of it.

"There is no time," he said after a few games. "Qualify, we must qualify."

He said the same before the World Cup 2010 campaign got under way and again kicked the issue of both exiled and teenage talent down the road by citing the qualification imperative in his job spec.

Meaningful

Now that Ireland have qualified, there is still no time to try some young players in a meaningful way and when the steps on the road to Brazil are taken in the Autumn, there won't be any time either.

No team stands still and no international squad can ever be fixed in stone. There is a constant need for replenishment and in McCarthy, McClean, Coleman and Shane Duffy, Trapattoni has four ideal candidates.

Trap likes what he has and doesn't want to rock the boat but at some point he must bite the bullet. This was an opportunity missed. Why not let all four start against the Czechs and send a message to the players who think they have a Euro 2012 ticket in the bag? What did he have to lose?

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND v CZECH REPUBLIC
LIVE SKY SPORTS 1 (7.45), RTE2 (10.20)

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