AHEAD OF TONIGHT’S game, there are a couple of issues that still need to be addressed.
Aside from the obvious questions (will Trap emphasise “personality” or “the details” in his post-match assessment), here are five matters that should be resolved once and for all following this evening’s action:
1. Are Shay Given and John O’Shea 100% fit?
Naturally, both players, along with Trapattoni, will insist that they are full recovered from injury. However, in football, what players and managers say in interviews cannot always be taken for granted. It is not beyond the realms of the imagination to consider it possible that at least one of the two could be exaggerating the extent of their fitness. Players are invariably desperate to play in major tournaments, and they will do anything, including lying about their level of fitness, to ensure their dream becomes a reality.
It proved to be the case in 2002, when Jason McAteer insisted he was fully recovered in time for the opening game against Cameroon. However, McAteer was hauled off at half-time, as he was clearly suffering, and he later admitted he had lied about his fitness. Tonight’s friendly should prove once and for all whether Given and O’Shea have managed to fully shake off their respective knocks.
2. Will Kevin Doyle’s poor club form affect his game at international level?
Kevin Doyle has, by all accounts, experienced an extremely difficult time of late with Wolves, having arguably his worst season since arriving in English football. But surely good players don’t become bad overnight? Notwithstanding his disappointing goalscoring record, Doyle has proven his worth time and again for Ireland. He has invariably been the perfect foil for Robbie Keane, leading the forward line expertly, and chipping in with the occasional spectacular goal.
Nonetheless, there is some concern that his confidence is so poor at the moment that he will unable to maintain his usually excellent Ireland form. With Jonathan Walters having a superb season with Stoke, and Shane Long on target in the friendly against Bosnia, it is imperative that Doyle delivers an assured display tonight to silence his critics.
3. Can Aiden McGeady maintain the level of consistency he demonstrated against Bosnia?
(Aiden McGeady was praised for his display against Bosnia – INPHO/Donall Farmer)
A common criticism of Aiden McGeady is that, too often, he blows hot and cold, producing a moment of brilliance one minute, and conceding possession cheaply the next. However, this accusation could hardly have been levelled at the Spartak Moscow winger in his side’s most recent friendly against Bosnia. Despite only being on the pitch for 45 minutes, he was Ireland’s best player, and was rightly given the man-of-the-match award for his efforts. And his importance should not be underestimated – he had more assists than any other player during Ireland’s qualifying campaign.
Moreover, McGeady is one of several Irish players who has a had a less-than-memorable season at club level, but perhaps he will continue to respond to the burgeoning threat to his place in the side (from James McClean) in the best possible fashion. If he delivers another vintage display this evening, it could perhaps inspire him towards being the surprise package of Ireland’s tournament, in the same way that Damien Duff came of age at the 2002 World Cup. However, should he fail to sparkle, then those calls for McClean’s inclusion in the starting line-up are likely to grow stronger once more.
4. Can Stephen Ward cope with the demands of international football at the highest level?
Ward is another player coming off a disappointing season, and Trap will be hoping he will thrive rather than wilt, as he temporarily escapes the depression of his club environment. The full-back is – by some distance – the least experienced player (caps-wise) likely to start the opening game against Croatia. He played in just three of the group games in the qualifiers, in addition to the two play-off matches against Estonia.
And unlike his defensive colleagues, he had somewhat of a nightmare performance as Ireland were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against Russia in Moscow, consistently giving the ball away cheaply and looking vulnerable defensively. Yet Ward showed signs of improvement thereafter, barely putting a foot wrong in either of the Estonia games. Nevertheless, it’s important he has a solid game tonight, both to give his confidence a boost and to show Irish supporters that his below-par Russia display was the exception rather than the rule when it comes to his standard of performance at international level.
5. If things go pear-shaped, is Trap prepared to implement a plan B?
It’s no secret that Trap’s a relatively stubborn manager who is intent on urging the side to stick to his somewhat rigid style of play if at all possible. But, unlikely though it may be, picture the worst case scenario: Hungary go two or three goals ahead early on. How will he react? The only comparable instance in recent times is Ireland’s 3-2 loss in the qualifiers against Russia in Dublin. On that occasion, Trap’s side belatedly showed admirable spirit to threaten a comeback after going three goals down, but even in that circumstance, the manager seemed slow to implement change. Given the greater quality of the opposition they are set to face over the course of the tournament, it is conceivable that Ireland will be confronted with a similar scenario to the Russia game.
The inclusion of Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan in the squad, who often operates in an advanced role behind the strikers at club level, would have given Trap scope to alter Ireland’s tactical approach if necessary. However, the absence of Hoolahan, coupled with the ostensible unwillingness of Trap to ever depart from his customary 4-4-2 style, indicates a conspicuous lack of a plan B. Tonight’s game is his last chance to experiment, though all the pre-match signs indicate the Italian will stick determinedly to the tried-and-tested formula.