It’s been a massive end of season for the Boys in Green. Three World Cup qualifying points, positive displays against England and Spain, the emergence of Wes Hoolahan, and the growing statures of Coleman and McCarthy have whet the appetite for a real crack at toppling Austria and Sweden for a play-off berth. However, for some, criticism of the team and manager remains entrenched. Here’s 10 talking points.
Hoolahan’s displays against Georgia and the Faroe Islands have been some of the stand-out performances of Ireland’s four-game series. He was lauded by skipper Robbie Keane for his ability to pick out a pass in tight situations and this has been echoed by Giovanni Trapattoni. The Italian repeated that he may have been guilty of overlooking Hoolahan in the past. However, for all the hollering for the manager to opt for the former Shelbourne man in a midfield partnership with James McCarthy for the crucial games with Sweden and Austria, a word of warning. The idea that Hoolahan and McCarthy’s creative play would turn us into world beaters and we could abandon a defence-minded approach needs serious debate. Trapattoni has neither the luxury nor the inclination to gamble with so few games remaining. It will be one player or the other.
Speaking as an analyst for Sky Sports for the Faroes’ game, Niall Quinn said he believed the draw with England could prove a defining moment for this Irish squad. He believes the performance on such a big stage had ‘put something back beneath the jersey,’ something that has been missing since the abysmal showings at Euro 2012. The connection between the fans and players in Wembley was especially noteworthy because it had been so lacking up to this point. Taking the lead against England at home had transformed the dynamic between the team and supporters and spurred the squad on to what has been an impressive series of games.
Any lingering doubts about the big Galwegian between the posts fade with each towering leap to pluck a cross from the air and relieve the pressure on the Irish back-four. Point-blank saves against England and Spain have elevated Forde to new heights among Irish fans. And what’s more, his pumped up reactions are contagious. He’s been linked with a move to Hull in the close season, a team likely in need of boosting their defence as Premier League betting odds make them favourites to go back down. Forde is a man who’s come late to the top level and he’s relishing, and growing with, every moment.
When Ireland played Norway in a November friendly in 2010, the build-up was dominated by talk of Seamus Coleman’s first cap. The Everton star’s family travelled to the Aviva Stadium in anticipation and Giovanni Trapattoni proceeded to leave him on the bench for the entire 90 minutes. The former Sligo Rover’s player has had to bide his time – he should have gone to Euro 2012 – but since his introduction to the right-back spot, the 24-year-old has become one of Ireland’s best players. His swash-buckling attacking style has been one of the the key catalysts in transforming Ireland’s style under Trapattoni from conservative to offensive. The manager is earning little or no praise for this but he’ll be happy if the plaudits continue to be bestowed on Coleman. Deployed on the wing against Spain, Coleman’s first half display would not have looked out of place had he been wearing a red shirt. His performances and ability to carve openings offer a glimmer of hope that Ireland could turn over Sweden or Austria in September.
All credit to analysis
John Giles, Richie Sadlier, and Brian Kerr have all attacked Giovanni Trapattoni over the last fortnight attributing comments to the manager that because of the impressive performances of the likes of McCarthy and Coleman, the Italian had ‘discovered’ them. Perhaps rightly, they’ve argued the impressive displays of these players meant they should have been in the team far sooner in the build-up to Euro 2012. As repeatedly pointed out by Trapattoni, he chose to go with other players but they achieved the objective of qualification. He’s never intimated that he discovered Coleman and McCarthy. What he did say in the aftermath of the Euros was that he would change the team. He has done that but in the eyes of our pundits, he doesn’t deserve any credit for it.
The bandwagon that rolled into Poland last summer has well and truly been reduced to scrap but what the manner of the defeats at Euro 2012 has done is allowed the Irish public to excel at what they do best, criticise. Lambasting Giovanni Trapattoni continues to be a national past-time to the extent that it has become tiresome, almost involuntary for thousands of Irish people who got lost on the way from Poznan back to Lansdowne Road for the recent games. Trap’s head is certainly still on the block but the level of abuse aimed at the manager and team with any mention of them has reached ridiculous proportions where the consensus that Ireland played well in Stockholm, London, and New York is far from unanimous and wholly objected by some fans.
Even in the aftermath of Robbie Keane’s record breaking appearance against the Faroe Islands, the Irish captain failed to earn universal praise. He’s been accused of holding back the Irish team by denying a newcomer his place in the squad.
We also had the ludicrous situation last week of Trapattoni being pilloried by supporters for not playing Shane Long, Wes Hoolahan and Jon Walters against Spain in Yankee Stadium. Except, they weren’t actually in the squad. Perhaps it’s a good thing that so few fans go to Lansdowne Road these days. At least we know they actually follow football.
The Honey Monster
The heartening sight of Richard Dunne back in an Irish shirt was tempered by the fact that he didn’t travel to New York in order to pursue a club contract somewhere, anywhere. You’d have to think if he can return to full fitness he’ll be snapped up. The newly promoted sides, likely to struggle according to most Premier League tips, could boost their defences with the experience of Dunne but he was also hotly linked with a move to the MLS last year.
On the move
Giovanni Trapattoni has been accused in the past of criticising his players in his press conferences but throughout this four game series, he has sung the praises of his charges. He has urged David Forde, Jeff Hendrick, and Conor Sammon to chase transfers to the Premier League. Elsewhere, James McCarthy is on the radar of some the top clubs. Aiden McGeady impressed against the Faroes (if you are Niall Quinn, or didn’t if you are Eamon Dunphy) and could also earn a move away from Moscow while Kevin Doyle is linked with a move to Celtic. Prior to Euro 2012, assistant Marco Tardelli said the tournament could prove a shop window for the Irish players. Nobody wanted them in the aftermath. This close-season could prove very different.
Ireland have a friendly date in Cardiff on August 14th, three weeks before the home game with Sweden. These meetings, right at the start of the Premier League season, are usually turgid affairs but with Ireland’s playing style continuing to evolve, this away game could be the perfect chance to achieve a confidence-boosting win on the road ahead of the crucial final qualifying rounds. Shane Long’s display at Wembley will see him eager to lead the line again while Stephen Quinn was excellent upon his introduction in New York. David Meyler and Jeff Hendrick will also eye up this game as a chance to stake a claim while Anthony Pilkington might earn another call if he hasn’t tried Trapattoni’s patience.
Sweden and Austria
Having drawn with both already, and dominated for large spells in both Stockholm and Dublin, there is a feeling that Sweden and/or Austria are there for the taking if Ireland can raise their game a little more. The Boys in Green were criticised in some quarters for only beating the Faroe Islands 3-0. Yet Sweden managed just two goals and far fewer scoring opportunities in their home tie with the Islanders. Ibrahimovic, anonymous when Ireland faced him last March, grabbed both goals but the Swedes, reeling from defeat to Austria, were poor. Coming off a hugely positive series of games and with the build-up already beginning to September’s do-or-die ties, the Boys in Green will go in convinced they can do what we haven’t done for a very long time, beat a group rival either at home or abroad and lay claim to the World Cup play-off spot.