Sammon makes the great leap forward
SOCCER:A little over four years after he left Derry City for Kilmarnock in exchange for a fee that barely scraped into five figures and six after he gave up his job as a bank official in order to concentrate full-time on football, Conor Sammon gets the opportunity to stake his claim to a place in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland set-up tonight.
While Richard Keogh and Jeff Hendrick will have hope they get on at some stage over the course of this evening’s encounter with Poland, the 26-year-old Derby County player is the only first time starter.
“I hope he confirms my impression of him,” said the manager after making it clear that impression is very positive indeed.
Sammon is seen by the manager as possessing more pace and technique than is usual for a man of his height and his partnership with Reading’s Shane Long, Trapattoni hopes, will enable the home side both to pressure Poland’s central defence and open things up out wide for Robbie Brady and James McClean.
Sammon’s debut aside, the Italian’s selection is rather less radical than he had suggested it might be over the last few days.
In central midfield James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan will play together, as they might well in Stockholm next month, while Ciarán Clark, a relative newcomer admittedly, gets to partner John O’Shea at the heart of the defence ahead of Richard Keogh.
Greg Cunningham returns, however, more than two years after his last game at this level, a friendly defeat at home by Norway in which the young full-back left quite a few questions unanswered.
Since then, the Galway man has battled injury and dropped down a division in order to get regular football at Bristol City. The club is struggling at the foot of the Championship but when asked about a tweet by Ian Harte yesterday in which the former international left back referred to Trapattoni as a clown, the manager made it clear he sees the 22-year-old as the future and the Reading defender, despite his remarkable return to the top flight, as the past.
“We had Kevin (Kilbane) and John (O’Shea) could also play on the left. Then there was (Stephen) Ward and now Cunningham. He (Harte) says I didn’t know him but I saw many games. I knew him but I looked for young players. How many managers would think of Hendrick? How many would think of Sammon?”
Ultimately, of course, it may be of little enough consequence, at least in the short term, who he thinks of for when he was asked about whether Robbie Keane would return to the starting line up next month Trapattoni, having been asked the question a second time after a long, rambling first attempt at an answer that nobody really understood, replied simply: “Yeah, sure”.
The manager insisted that those who impress may be retained but many of what might be regarded, by the standards of this team as his other “big guns” will doubtless return too if they are fit.
Asked yesterday about the fact he has not willingly strayed too far from his preferred starting line up, Trapattoni was as unapologetic as ever about his determination to prioritise the win; even this evening when the main difference between success and defeat is perhaps a half dozen places in the world ranking ladder.
“Sure,” he observed, “we could have changed all 11 but James McCarthy (for example) must grow and we must improve the ranking.”
He might have pointed at this stage to the Poles who, for one reason or another, are more than a dozen places lower than Ireland on the Fifa list despite having a squad based around a core group of well regarded Bundesliga players.
Trapattoni’s opposite number, Waldemar Fornalik, certainly made it clear last night he has options with the 49-year-old providing impressively long lists of possibilities every time he was asked by the travelling press corps about who might play in particular positions.
Few would be household names in these parts, of course, unless the household in question actually happens to be Polish and with the FAI anticipating an attendance of something close to 40,000 there will clearly be quite a few of those represented.
Poles together We've met before
The love-affair between Irish and Polish football was merely reignited in Poznan and Gdansk last summer – it blossomed long before that. The two nations have met 23 times on the international stage, beginning in 1938 with a 6-0 thumping for the travelling side in Warsaw.
That was put right six months later in Dalymount Park when Ireland won 3-2 but they had to wait 26 years for another victory. Indeed, tonight’s hosts have won only four of the 23, scoring 25 to Poland’s 42. There have been nine draws and the only two times the nations have met competitively, in the Euro 92 qualifiers, it was honours even.
Last six meetings
19/11/08 Croke Park (Friendly) Ire 2-3 Pol
28/04/04 Bydgoszcz (Friendly) Ire 0-0 Pol
16/10/91 Poznan (Euro Q) Ire 3-3 Pol
01/05/91 Lansdowne (Euro Q) Ire 0-0 Pol
22/05/88 Lansdowne (Friendly) Ire 3-3 Pol
12/11/86 Warsaw (Friendly) Ire 0-1 Pol