On a dreary Monday afternoon at the Aviva Stadium in a somehow even more dreary press conference, Giovanni Trapattoni announced his 23 man squad for the forthcoming European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. There were few surprises with perhaps only the exclusion of young Everton wing back Séamus Coleman in favour of Wolves’ Kevin Foley causing a stir amongst the horde of journalists gathered in the conference room. James McCarthy, who many believed would be the biggest exclusion from the squad, let Trapattoni off the hook as he had earlier released a statement (read here) revealing that due to the illness of his father, he had informed Trap’ of his desire to stay at home in June. Some may think he’s crazy to turn down what could be (hopefully not) his only chance to wear the green shirt at a major tournament but ultimately he is right, in my opinion. Family always comes first.
The major talking point prior to the press conference was whether young, Sunderland winger James McClean had done enough to impress the infamously stubborn Italian and earn a place in the squad flying to Poland in June. McClean was signed from Derry City at the beginning of this season by then manager Steve Bruce but it wasn’t until fellow Derry native, Martin O’Neill took the reigns at Sunderland that McClean got his chance to shine. And shine he most certainly did, scoring 5 goals and making 3 more in 22 appearances. That run of impressive performances earned McClean his first call up to the Republic of Ireland squad having spent his youth playing for Northern Ireland. He may only have been on the pitch for 11 minutes against the Czech Republic but the reaction of the crowd to his introduction means there were no doubts about whether the Irish faithful believed he should be travelling to Poland. Trapattoni essentially put an end to months of speculation last week by stating that he was “90-99% sure” that McClean would be included in the 23, and he didn’t disappoint.
The other hot topic amongst the medley of media at the Aviva before the revealing of the squad was whether Norwich City and former League of Ireland midfielder, Wes Hoolahan would earn his first international call up on the back a fine first season in the Premiership which garnered 7 assists (the second highest from a player outside the top 6 teams in the league) and 3 goals so far. Of the 8 midfielders selected in the Irish squad, only Aiden McGeady has provided more goals for his club than Hoolahan this season. You could argue that McGeady has an advantage as he is playing for a much stronger team in what is easily a weaker league than the Premiership. Despite all of this, Hoolahan was considered surplus to requirements by Trapattoni.Furthermore, even if one of the Irish central midfield players has to withdraw from the squad, it is the much maligned Paul Green who is on standby to take their place.
The full squad, if you haven’t already seen is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Aston Villa), Kieron Westwood (Sunderland), David Forde (Millwall)
Defenders: Kevin Foley (Wolves), Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Stephen Ward (Wolves), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Seán St. Ledger (Leicester City), Darren O’Dea (Leeds United. Will be without club during Championships)
Midfielders: Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Keith Andrews (West Brom), Keith Fahey (Birmingham City), Darron Gibson (Everton), Damien Duff (Fulham), Stephen Hunt (Wolves), James McClean (Sunderland), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow).
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Shane Long (West Brom), Simon Cox (West Brom), Jon Walters (Stoke City).
Standby: Darren Randolph (Motherwell), Paul McShane (Hull City), Séamus Coleman (Everton), Paul Green (Derby County), Andy Keogh (Millwall)
With so few surprises in the 23 man squad, you can expect even less from Trapattoni when it comes to naming his starting eleven for the games against Croatia, Spain and Italy. During the press conference, the Italian explained the reasons behind the exclusion of the likes of Wes Hoolahan. Ireland have a tried and tested formula, a rigid 4-4-2. It’s this formula which achieved qualification and Trapattoni isn’t going to start experimenting at this stage. The inclusion of someone like Hoolahan would see Ireland transform into a 4-5-1 formation as Trapattoni wouldn’t be willing to give up on his two holding midfielders. Ask any Ireland fan and they’ll admit that the football that our national team plays is dour and monotonous but ultimately it achieves results which is proven by the fact that Ireland are unbeaten in their last 12 games, keeping clean sheets in 9 of those games.
So who will line out on June 10th against Croatia? I personally don’t see there being much guessing to be done with only the right full back position and Glenn Whelan’s midfield partner being up for debate. Given, Dunne, O’Shea, Ward, Whelan, Duff, McGeady, Keane and Doyle are all guaranteed starters. At right back, however, there is competition between Seán St. Ledger and Fulham’s Stephen Kelly. If St. Ledger gets the nod he’ll slot in at centre half alongside Richard Dunne with Sunderland’s John O’Shea being shifted to full back. This, in my opinion, is the most likely outcome with St. Ledger, O’Shea and Dunne all very accomplished in the air giving Ireland a more solid base. Kelly is more adept at getting forward than O’Shea but due to restrictions placed on him by Trapattoni’s system he doesn’t get the opportunity to express that as often as he’d wish and simply put, O’Shea is a better defender. In midfield, Darron Gibson finally heeded the advice of Trapattoni and moved on from his backup slot at Old Trafford to have an important role in Everton’s revival in recent months. Keith Andrews, however, also moved on to West Brom recently and has put in some good performances when called upon, adding a few goals to his resumé. On the day, I think Trapattoni will stick with Andrews, with Gibson probably being introduced as a substitute in all three games. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gibson included in the starting XI. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ With today’s announcement that Spain’s Carles Puyol and David Villa will most likely both be out of the Championships, Irish fans are beginning to believe we may have a chance of making it out of what is a very tough group. If we pick up points in Poznan against Croatia and Italy and manage to avoid a goalfest in Gdansk against Spain, we’ll have an excellent opportunity to qualify for the quarter finals where a possible meeting with England or France awaits. What more incentive does an Irish team need than that? Come on you boys in green!