Preview: Serbia vs Republic of Ireland
Irish football is on the canvas and our national team sporting a bloody nose. The Irish people have thrown in the towel, their love now wholly reserved for a shy, unassuming girl with fists of fury and a head of steel. Katie Taylor has stolen our hearts after the Boys in Green broke them in June. Yet Giovanni Trapattoni has faced the flurry of punches that have come his way since Euro 2012 and he’s come out fighting.
The great debate this week, as the all encompassing Premier League returns, is how sullied professional football fails to measure up to the Olympian spirit. Taylor and our amateur athletes occupy a different world to our soccer players but have achieved success on the global stage with the precious metal to prove it.
Our football manager comes from a different era when, despite equally humble beginnings, the values of hard work brought success. Trapattoni has come through in the days following our abysmal showing at Euro 2012 by handing a title shot to some new young contenders. Sadly some are refusing to step into the ring.
Trap continues to ship criticism but he has taken some measure of action following the catastrophe that was the Euros. The outcry to inject new blood was deafening in the aftermath of our humiliating exit. In his immediate post-tournament press conferences, the Italian stated clearly he was prepared to introduce new faces and try new systems. It was taken with a pinch of salt by the press and the Irish supporters.
Wednesday’s game with Serbia was seen as a chance for new faces to stake their claim for a place in a new look Ireland team. And then what happens? Trap stays through to his word. The likes of Wilson, and belatedly Hoolahan and Pilkington are called in…and they pull out.
Trapattoni won’t say it but we can. Three days before the start of the Premier League season begins, we are viewing these withdrawals with scepticism. Trapattoni is now within his rights to dismiss these claims for a recall given that our next game is the first vital qualifier on the road to Rio. There is no argument now for any of those players to be parachuted into a starting eleven in Astana.
James McCarthy, James McClean, Stephen Kelly, Jonathan Walters, and Shane Long are now in pole position to lay claim to first team berths in Kazakhstan provided they perform in Belgrade this week. And those who are not here can have no complaints.
Trap chose not to call in the old-guard of Dunne, Duff, and Keane and we have now lost Shay Given. The trio may well be in his plans for September, provided they commit to one more campaign of course. But were Trap to start them all on the bench in Kazakhstan in favour of this starting eleven in Serbia, they’d have to grin and bear it. That’s the nature of football. Players who get opportunities often take them and don’t look back.
We screamed for new faces. Perhaps only Ciaran Clark and Stephen Hunt can feel hard done by that they haven’t been called upon given the number of withdrawals.
Trap even stated that young guns Robbie Brady and Shane Duffy were in line to join the squad in Belgrade but were released for the crucial U21 clash with Turkey in Sligo. So far, the manager has lived up to his end of the bargain, albeit for what is traditionally a pedestrian friendly right at the start of the club season. But tell James McClean or Seamus Coleman that this game is meaningless. John O’Shea deservedly earns the captain’s armband. He may even keep it permanently.
With the uncertainty surrounding the futures of the senior players, coupled with Trap’s tendency in the past to use friendlies as barometers to measure a player’s suitability, there is definite competition for places in this Irish squad. Not least in the goalkeeping department.
No doubt Hoolahan, Pilkington, Wilson et al, have enough wrong with them for a less than enthusiastic club manager to keep them at home. Could they have travelled anyway? Shown the manager they were determined to stay in his plans? Would that defeat the purpose of the actions of club staff who don’t want them travelling anywhere but to the training ground? Ask yourself this; if Robbie Keane in Los Angeles had been named in this squad, would he be there? Too right he would.
The tie with Serbia may well turn out to be an exercise in going though the motions. These friendlies so often are but that would be a missed opportunity for some of these players to really shake up Trapattoni’s thinking. God knows they’ve found it nigh on impossible to break in. Now the Italian is casting the door wide-open. Some, unwillingly or not, have slammed it in his face.
In a week when Irish people the world over are bursting with pride at the performances of amateurs on the world stage, our professional athletes should realise that pride does not extend so fervently to them following their performances in Poland earlier this summer. Back then, Irish football was dealt a knock-out blow. Now we have to pick ourselves up and get back in the ring with those who are prepared to fight for the jersey.
Republic of Ireland XI v Serbia: Westwood, McShane, O’Shea, O’Dea, Kelly, McGeady, Whelan, McCarthy, McClean, Walters, Long