Four new faces in Trapattoni's squad
Soccer:Four newcomers, three of them from Derby County, have been named in Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland squad for the friendly against Poland in Dublin on February 6th. In total, there are five uncapped players but West Ham United goalkeeper Stephen Henderson is no stranger to the squad and has, in this instance, been preferred to Motherwell's Darron Randolph.
The Italian, who was forced to cancel his scheduled press conference this afternoon following the death of his sister Romilde this morning, has also opted to rest captain Robbie Keane and Reading defender Stephen Kelly, while defenders Sean St Ledger (hamstring) and Marc Wilson (broken leg) are unavailable through injury.
Ominously for Kelly, who reportedly fell out with Trapattoni's assistant manager Marco Tardelli after the 6-1 defeat to Germany in October and has played only three club games this season, a "break" seems to be the last thing he needs.
The 27-man squad includes Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne, but only as a “standby” option, while his fitness is monitored “over the coming fortnight before a decision will be made on his inclusion in the squad”.
It was no surprise, then, to see defender Richard Keogh (26) included after the manager attended Derby's 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest on Saturday, but Trapattoni has also opted to call on Rams midfielder Jeff Hendrick (20) and striker Conor Sammon (26), who has three under-21 caps to his name but has hitherto been unable to break into the international squad despite a spell at Premier League Wigan Athletic.
The inclusion of Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington has been on the cards for some time, and he will link up with clubmate Wes Hoolahan when the squad assembles in two weeks' time.
“I have decided to use this friendly game as an opportunity to work with younger players to see their potential,” said Trapattoni in a statement this afternoon. “As a result, I have given senior players like Robbie Keane and Stephen Kelly a break for this fixture.
“We saw a number of strong performances from our younger players in the second half of last year and we intend to build from those strong foundations, using this friendly match to introduce more new talent like Pilkington, Hendrick, Sammon and (Richard) Keogh.
“I look forward to working with these players, and seeing what they have to offer.”
The defensive options have also been bolstered by the return to the senior squad of former Manchester City full-back Greg Cunningham (21), who debuted for Ireland in 2010 and played three times before injury and a move to Bristol City saw him drop down the pecking order.
Hendrick has been with Derby since 2010 when he joined from Dublin side St Kevin's Boys. He has made 72 appearance for The Rams and scored seven goals.
Former UCD and Derry City striker Sammon has a more varied CV, having moved from the Brandywell to Kilmarnock in 2008 before spending 18 months at Wigan. In August last year, the Dubliner joined Derby where he has scored six in 27 appearances.
Keogh has also been an integral part of Derby's season, having made 28 starts for the club, who lie 13th in the Championship and eight points adrift of the play-off places. The defender, who was capped eight times for the under-21s, said on Twitter this afternoon that he was "proud" to have been called up.
While also serving to rekindle the love affair between Polish and Irish football after Euro 2012, the friendly’s primary function is to prepare Trapattoni’s side for the crucial World Cup qualifiers double-header against Sweden and Austria in March.
Ireland travel to Stockholm to face the former on March 22nd and four days later they will host Austria at the Aviva Stadium.
With Dunne and St Ledger still major concerns ahead of the competitive fixtures, and Darren O’Dea now playing his football with MLS side Toronto FC, the Poland game is likely to be an opportunity for Keogh and Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark to force themselves into the reckoning.
Rep of Ireland squad (v Poland)
Goalkeepers: Keiren Westwood, David Forde, Stephen Henderson
Defenders: John O’Shea, Ciaran Clark, Darren O’Dea, Richard Dunne*, Paul McShane, Seamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Greg Cunningham, Stephen Ward
Midfielders: Anthony Pilkington, James McClean, Robbie Brady, Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, David Meyler, Wes Hoolahan
Forwards: Simon Cox, Shane Long, Jon Walters, Conor Sammon, Andy Keogh, Kevin Doyle.