Alan Kelly backs David Forde to be a safe pair of hands for Ireland
Millwall goalkeeper set to get the nod to start vital qualifier game in Stockholm
As Giovanni Trapattoni ’s matchday line-up appeared to start taking shape yesterday in Malahide where Shane Long partnered Robbie Keane in attack for the “probables” and Paul Green rather than James McCarthy sat alongside Glenn Whelan in central midfield, Alan Kelly sought to sidestep the speculation.
The manager, he contended, is still weighing up his options ahead of a game that could make or break Ireland ’s World Cup ambitions.
On one aspect of team selection, though, Kelly was clear: David Forde will take his place in the side for the first time in a competitive international and, he insists, the 33-year-old Galway man will be ready.
“He’s there on merit,” says Trapattoni’s coach who himself represented his country on 34 occasions. “The one thing I’d say about David is that the amount of work he puts in on the training ground is incredible. I was actually talking to Kevin Pressman, his goalkeeping coach at Millwall the other day, and his enthusiasm for the game, for being out there on the training pitch, looking at different situations in games . . . he’s taken a real step up, shown that if you put that work into your game on the training pitch then you get the rewards. That’s what we're seeing now.”
Forde comes into the game off the back of three clean sheets kept for his club and with a FA Cup semi-final to come a few weeks down the line so his confidence should certainly be high. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a way of ruining goalkeepers’ days, though, and Kelly acknowledges that it might take more than the Millwall man alone to keep one of the world’s best striker at bay for 90 minutes.
“Yeah, he’s a player who can strike the ball from anywhere so when he gets within 30 or 35 yards you have to be ready for anything, you saw what he did against England.
“In the old days you’d put him in Row Z of the stand in the first minute but you’re not allowed do that anymore but it’s about what we do with him as a team. Obviously the goalkeeper is one man who has the job of shot stopping and things like that but what you do as a team, say, to stop the balls getting into him, do you maybe screen off the space in front of him . . . all of those things come into the reckoning of the manager when he sits down and decides how to set the team up and what tactics to use.”
Green’s presence in the training game team – and at the expense of James McCarthy, suggests Trapattoni will be looking to his central midfielders to play a big part in protecting Forde and his back four.
The selection would represent a gamble if repeated on Friday with the added protection that Green might provide coming at the cost of McCarthy’s more incisive passing as the team attempts to push forward, a loss that could end up exacerbating Ireland’s persistent trouble with retaining possession. Still, Kelly is predictably upbeat about the midfielder’s potential to make a positive impact.
“We know the job Paul can do,” he says. “He works really hard in midfield, always pressing the opposition midfielders and then dropping off and covering space. He (Trapattoni) knows about Paul and the job he did against Poland. ”
A greater emphasis on defence in central midfield could mean more pressure on the likely Irish starters out wide with Robbie Brady and James McClean needing to make the most of the opportunities they get to move the visitors forward and create chances.
Long looked on course yesterday to partner Keane in that department and the striker, who returned to action on Saturday after a couple of weeks off with an ankle injury, may have narrowed the options for Trapattoni with a challenge on Jon Walters that left his team-mate in considerable pain. Kelly, though, was confident afterwards that the 29-year-old will be fit enough to travel.
“He just took a knock,” he said. “You saw the collision with Shane and it hit the outside of the leg near the tip. There are a few nerves around there so it was the shock of the studs hitting the nerve more than anything. A bit of ice and he’ll be alright.
“It was the intensity of it out there; the lads were going at it hammer and tongs. You can see how big the game is on Friday – it’s showing in training.”
Nobody, he insisted meanwhile, will be overly concerned by the ongoing debate about whether the roof is left open or not although the former Preston goalkeeper did have a cautionary tale for Forde when it comes to cold nights and keeping warm.
“We played Torquay away,” he recalls with a grin. “This is gospel truth. We lost 1-0 and at half-time I couldn't feel my hands so I got the Deep Heat out, put it on and then went to the toilet . . .I forgot I had the Deep Heat on my hands and had the best game of my life in the second half - I couldn’t stand still. The report was 'Kelly was an explosion of movement in the second half!' And for a few minutes afterwards."