Trap's luck runs out
Loss of Duff a bitter blow for previously fortunate Irish boss
IT was all going so well. Lyrical we waxed about the luck of Il Trap and then down goes the Duffer on cue and the thin crust of confidence cracks.
Damien's Duff's surprise flight back to Newcastle underlined just how fragile a foundation rests under Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland. All eyes now focus on Aiden McGeady.
On Tuesday, when Trapattoni was asked a question about the size of his squad and whether he would be cutting numbers at any point, he started a sentence about the Celtic winger that suggested he wasn't entirely confident about his fitness.
"No, I won't be cutting -- they all stay here, I need eh, for McGeady ... "
His voice trailed away and at the time, it seemed an inconsequential enough remark.
Now, though, with the Duffer back in the North East of England and apparently disconsolate, McGeady's bruised foot will be examined with minute care.
It's been a remarkably stable week. All the arguments have been put to rest by Trapattoni through results if nothing else. Stephen Ireland made the job easy by ruling out a return a few weeks back and nobody has the energy for another bout of Andy Reid fever.
This isn't to say the issue is entirely dead. Duff's withdrawal breathes some more life into the debate about Reid and in these circumstances, Trapattoni's determination to leave him on the sidelines is counter-productive.
Stephen Hunt is the man who will benefit most from Duff's misfortune but if McGeady's injury proves resistant to rest and recuperation, Trapattoni will struggle to fill the wide positions in midfield.
Reid, of course, has been filling the wide left role for Sunderland for some time now and if his performances haven't been anything to write home about, he has shown enough to convince any neutral that he deserves a go ahead of young lads such as Shane Long and Andy Keogh -- both of whom would feature as potential replacements in the event of more bad news.
But because of some mysterious and bad karma, Trapattoni would rather sell ten-year tickets for Lansdowne Road than pick Reid. Many moons ago when Jack Charlton found himself strapped for centre-backs, he had to swallow a gallon of pride and call up Dave O'Leary.
The moment came in November '88 when the build-up to a trip to Seville for a World Cup qualifier against Spain saw Charlton stripped bare and in dire need of defenders.
The process involved a series of phone calls and the back page of the Evening Herald as neutral ground. In the end, several years of bad feeling and stubbornness were put to one side without any major discussion and O'Leary was back.
A few years later, O'Leary was the unlikely penalty hero in Genoa and a circle of stubbornness and pragmatism was joined.
Expediency is part of football life and there isn't a manger alive or dead that didn't bite his tongue for the good of the team when his inclination was to take a swing -- verbally or physically.
Trapattoni is no different in that regard and just as we have grown to respect him for the discipline, organisation and belief he has instilled in our national team, we would like him more if he showed that his mulishness is negotiable.
Forgiveness and redemption loom large in the Irish psyche and while Reid clearly believes there is nothing to forgive and might have his own list of grievances to work through, he has recently restated his passion for playing for his country and would return at the drop of a hat.
The suspicion is that Trapattoni wouldn't have to wait two years for a payback as Charlton did. Duff's absence is a bitter blow and one that comes at exactly the moment when the conviction had just about hardened that Trapattoni was a man with gilded nether regions.
Bulgaria, from the outside looking in, seem to be a team in disarray and the appointment of Stanimir Stoilov to replace Plamen Markov doesn't seem to have helped to any great extent.
Certainly, the issue of Dimitar Berbatov's interest in playing for his country has still not been resolved.
"Berbatov's leg has been immobilised, it will take him 10 to 14 days to recover," said Stoilov in response to speculation. "After that, he will start light training sessions. He will not come to Bulgaria. He can fly to Dublin to watch the match if the United management lets him go. Our national team doctor has received all of Berbatov's medical tests and x-rays. Hardly anybody questions his injury."
Hmmm. Maybe Darren Gibson is seeing things. "It didn't look like much of an injury to me," he said.
Some observers believed that Stoilov had managed to win the regard of Berbatov until John O'Shea cast doubt on the new man's words and Gibson weighed in with his tuppence. The logic was that Berbatov turned up and put in a decent shift for Stoilov in his first game as Bulgarian boss last December -- a 1-1 draw in Switzerland.
But O'Shea clearly feels that Berbatov's injury has been overstated and if that's the case, Stoilov is not getting all the information he needs -- a bad sign for him but a good sign for Trapattoni.
Nor does Stoilov have all the players he needs and in the absence of Valeri Bojinov, Martin Petrov and Valeri Domovchiski, Bulgaria will field novices.
Trapattoni enjoys much more settled circumstances, despite the loss of Duff who, it should be remembered, played no part in Mainz or Montenegro.
While he claimed he had a decision to make over the right-full slot at the start of the week, Trapattoni won't want to mess with the O'Shea/Richard Dunne defensive backbone.
Once McGeady reports fit in the morning, it's likely that Trapattoni will make just one change from last month's win over Georgia -- Hunt for Duff.
Where Duff will really be missed is in Bari next week when class and experience will be at a premium but if Trapattoni's luck holds when it matters, he will travel to Italy with Bulgaria's qualification challenge all but neutered and a play-off all but guaranteed.
In that context, Duff's pulled muscle will seem less of a calamity.
3IRELAND v BULGARIA, TOMORROW, RTE 2, KO 7.45