Trapattoni's troops look thin on the ground
James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Conor Sammon and Greg Cunningham training at Gannon Park yesterday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Judging by the side which faces Poland tonight, there may be trouble ahead, writes EMMET MALONE
Marco Tardelli may have unwittingly raised expectations when he agreed the other day that tonight’s game against Poland might be described as a new era for the Republic of Ireland team. In the end there is one debutant and further opportunities for a few recent arrivals but the team named by Giovanni Trapattoni yesterday is still firmly rooted in the present.
Having weighed up the options available to him, the Italian apparently decided that they were not strong enough to justify more radical experimentation. Given that he is missing players, facing into the possibility of a third successive home defeat and attempting to prepare for make or break qualifiers against Sweden and Austria, it is scarcely much of a surprise.
The Italian may not have helped himself with the way he has alienated some decent players but the reality of lack of depth to Ireland’s talent pool is becoming more worrying than ever as he heads into what is almost certainly the final phase of his time with this team and, perhaps, starts to think a little more about his legacy.
He made much of the fact yesterday that he will start Conor Sammon and have Jeff Hendrick on the bench, but the worrying thing from the point of view of employers – who already have one eye on how to replace him – is the relatively small number of more obvious candidates he has passed over before settling on the Derby players as part of any bright new future.
After a good first season for County and a recent return to form, Hendrick is regarded as something of a prospect with those in his camp predicting a possible move to the Premier League in the summer.
Sammon, on the other hand, might have been forgiven for thinking his international opportunities had passed when Wigan decided to let him go in August. At a time, however, when Kevin Doyle is out of form, Caleb Folan is pursuing opportunities in Malaysia and Anthony Stokes is still some way short of convincing the current manager that he is worth the trouble, there are openings even for a striker with seven goals from 30 games.
The story is the same throughout the squad. In the absence of Darron Gibson and Séamus Coleman, West Brom are the highest-placed English league side to be represented in this squad. None of the biggest clubs possesses a single Irish player with the slightest hope of making a breakthrough anytime soon, and a handful possess none at all.
A few days ago Chelsea released their former youth team captain Conor Clifford and since this squad was last together in November Robbie Brady has given up on his attempt to win a place at Manchester United, opting instead for first-team football at Hull City.
“It’s a very brave decision,” said long-time United player John O’Shea yesterday “and in the long term I think it will benefit him. In the back of young lads’ minds, they’d be thinking: I could get a chance but I think the problem they have now is the worldwide network of scouts has increased so much even from when I was a youth team player.
“Look at the lads who are coming in from Brazil, South America, African kids, it a lot more fiercely competitive and that will obviously make it a lot more difficult for the Irish lads.
“There’s definitely talented Irish lads out there,” he said, “but there’s always the question of should you go to a smaller club, whether it be a smaller Premier League team or one in the Championship? Because on the one hand you might get the chance of playing quicker but on the other, and I know this from Manchester United, there’s the development you get, of making yourself a proper professional. It’s a tough balance to weigh up.”
Reliant on lower league
Very few actually get to make that call these days, with even the under-21 squad that Noel King named last week for today’s game against the Netherlands has just one player from a Champions League outfit (United’s Seán McGinty) and one other (Everton’s Shane Duffy) at a top-10 side but more than a dozen from the Championship and English lower leagues.
The situation is compounded by the fact that the FAI currently lacks the resources required to implement its own plans for the development of new talent here at home. That leaves Trapattoni’s successor hugely reliant on English outfits from outside the top tier, many of whom are also increasingly looking further afield.
There may, as the old song goes, be trouble ahead.