Preview: Rep. of Ireland vs Estonia
Within seconds of the final whistle in Paris two years ago, the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feelin” boomed out across the Stade de France. Every bass thump stabbing at the splintered hearts of the Irish fans who sat in disbelief. The French hung around for a matter of mere minutes before disappearing into the Parisien night, barely registering that they had just qualified for the World Cup but embarrassed and unable to look the visiting fans in the eyes. Two years on and instead of facing into 90 minutes of nail-biting tension, the Aviva Stadium is going to rock to the rhythm of the Boys in Green’s victory parade. Ireland are going back to a major finals and tonight’s gonna be a good night.
Ten years we’ve been waiting. Looking on from the sidelines every second summer watching everyone else have all the fun. The 4-0 demolition of Estonia last Friday has injected the nation with a scarcely believable feel-good factor. And yet, the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni has instilled in those who pull on the green shirt that they must show respect. They must respect the jersey and the opposition but, most of all, they must acknowledge the sell-out crowd who have turned up expecting a show. To use Trapattoni’s own analogy, Landowne tonight is Dublin’s La Scala. We’ve seen the final act played out and now we want the encore.
By picking a full-strength team, the manager has reciprocated that respect to the players. They must remain professional to the end and get the job done. The Italian has opted to start Stephen Hunt on the left wing, perhaps betraying a wish to attack the opposition and give the crowd the entertainment they want.
John O’Shea replaces the injured Stephen Kelly in defence. Kevin Doyle returns to the starting line-up having served his suspension and those in the Irish squad will acknowledge that the competition for places on the flight to the Euro Championships begins in earnest.
Despite the perceived lack of quality in the Irish squad, a quick scan at the players used by Giovanni Trapattoni shows there is plenty of competition for places.
While Shay Given is unquestionably number one, Kierin Westwood proved an able deputy during the Carling Nations Cup.
Up front, Cox, Walters, and Best are all in the frame to accompany Keane, Doyle, and Long.
It is in midfield where much of the debate will arise. Glenn Whelan and Aiden McGeady have been ever-presents in Trapattoni’s selections. With plenty of time between now and the finals, the management must surely look again at Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and the likes of Wes Hoolahan.
There was the feeling under Mick McCarthy that qualifying was the real contest and the tournament, the prize. Trapattoni will not sacrifice his reputation by merely making up the numbers and for that reason, we may well see development of the Irish squad between now and next summer.
It is the same reputation that means Trapattoni will not allow his players to switch off tonight. He has already stressed that Estonia deserve respect but more importantly the Irish supporters who have sacrificed hard-earned cash to be in the sold out Aviva this evening deserve a performance.
In a further show of loyalty by the manager to those who have repaid his faith, Kevin Kilbane, Shane Long, and Kevin Foley have been invited over to Dublin to sit with the Irish squad and join in the celebrations.
In a sign of the times, many of the squad have expressed their acknowledgement of what qualification means to the Irish people. In another rebuttal of their image of pampered, distant Premier League players, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Stephen Hunt among others have reiterated their awareness of the difficulties many Irish people are facing.
Trapattoni could barely contain his emotions in his post-match interview in Tallinn but the Italian has no idea what he has unleashed in a country desperate for distraction.
Like the re-emergence of the inflatables on the terraces in Tallinn, Ireland back in a major tournament is set to go bananas.