Pilkington on course to make his senior debut
Anthony Pilkington is on course to make his senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland against Poland, according to Giovanni Trapattoni, who sounded a little surprised yesterday that Darron Gibson’s self-imposed exile from the squad shows no sign of ending.
“I can say with certainty that he is very interested in playing for us,” said the Ireland manager in an end-of-year press conference with journalists. “He is honoured with the interest and the paperwork is being processed at the moment. Who knows, we might be able to see him in early February.”
The Italian said he will watch Norwich again over the Christmas period to monitor the form of both Pilkington, who has previously represented Ireland at under-21 level, and Wes Hoolahan, but he left little doubt about his desire to have the English-born winger on board.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I have seen him play in two or three matches and he is a very interesting player. He is a very particular type of player. He is technically excellent and he is very physical.
“He is really at ease playing both off his left and right foot. He is young and very aggressive with the ball. I don’t know if during my time here we have actually had that type of player, who is at ease both on the left and right wing, and who can come in and create difficulties for defences.
“I think he is a great threat in front of goal. There are a lot of different ways he can attack in the air. He has a great strike of the ball and he is not afraid to take a shot. He is excellent at set-pieces; his physical and technical attributes are there for everyone to see.
“He is a bit different from Duff, Lawrence, Hunt and even McClean. He is able to offer a lot in different areas of the pitch.”
Gibson is rather more straightforward in terms of what he might bring to the party should he return, but his form for Everton when fit this season has served as a reminder that the 25-year-old is starting to fulfill his potential.
“When I spoke to him last he was injured,” said Trapattoni, who had, like many others, believed the Northerner was willing to put his Euro2012 “disappointment” behind him a few weeks back.
“It certainly seems he is not ready to come back at the moment,” the 73-year-old acknowledged.
“I have been in contact with him, just to wish him a happy Christmas, and we will continue to follow him. I intend to go and see him at some matches and hopefully to establish some contact with him, to establish his position regarding his readiness and in his own head what his feelings are.”
While Gibson looks likely to miss February’s friendly against Poland, as well as the following month’s qualifiers against Sweden and Austria by choice, Sean St Ledger and Richard Dunne look increasingly unlikely to be in position to re-establish their central defensive partnership for the games, with both struggling to get over injuries.
In addition to a groin problem that may require further surgery, Dunne, Trapattoni suggests, has been a little unsettled by the uncertainty regarding his position at Aston Villa, with all the signs appearing to be that Paul Lambert would nudge the Dubliner towards the door if he could pass a medical at another club.
“Obviously I hope Richard and Sean can come back, but having seen the progress Clark has made, getting a lot of game time, I am not concerned about it. He is stepping up.”
The coach went on to express confidence that James McCarthy and Shane Long could both easily cope with the demands of moves to the likes of Liverpool or Arsenal should there turn out to be any truth to the transfer rumours and suggested Robbie Keane is still weighing up the pros and cons of a short loan move back to England in January.
Stephen Hunt also remains very much on Trapattoni’s radar, not least for the very special spirit he possesses, while he is confident Marc Wilson will be fit in time to feature in the qualifiers. Four points from those games and Ireland would be well placed to challenge for a play-off spot on the autumn run-in. Trapattoni feels a key factor in obtaining the required results is restoring some of the confidence that was drained by the battering the side took in Poland.
“The important thing for me is that the squad plays with the same determination and spirit that has always characterised Irish teams in the past; that they show they are not afraid of any opposition.”