IN AN IDEAL world, there’ll be no reason for debate or disagreement when Giovanni Trapattoni announces his Euro 2012 strikers on Monday afternoon.
Most people expect him to bring five men up front, and there are five outstanding candidates who fit the bill. Simples? If only it was.
Here are the men who should be on the plane to Poland.
Robbie Keane is going to Poland as captain and one of Ireland’s starting strikers, and the sooner the remaining members of the dwindling begrudgery brigade get used to that fact, the better for everyone.
Most of the remaining frivolous doubts about Keane’s value to this Ireland team were dimissed in qualifying where he scored seven of the team’s 15 goals (Kevin Doyle and Aiden McGeady were next highest with two each).
His move to the LA Galaxy in the MLS paid off and the Tallaght native, now 31, joined David Beckham and Landon Donovan as one of the team’s key men when they won the MLS Cup last season.
He looked fresh and sharp during his loan period with Aston Villa, but there will be some slight concerns about the absence of any real off-season break and the amount of football he has played since the switch to America.
As nailed on as Shay Given or Richard Dunne in this team.
Shane Long has had a mixed run of luck over the past nine months. The Tipp native finally got the Premier League move his form so richly deserved when West Brom came calling in the summer transfer window and immediately repaid their faith, scoring against Manchester United on his home debut and then against Chelsea in Stamford Bridge the week after.
Much of his season has been disrupted by a combination of injuries though with ear, knee, back and chest problems flaring up at different times. But when fit he made hay, scoring seven times in 31 club appearances and helping West Brom challenge for a first-ever top-half finish in the Premier League.
Trapattoni regularly used Long as a substitute throughout the qualification campaign before experimenting with him as the main striker in the Czech Republic friendly with Keane in a withdrawn role. All the signs point to him being on the plane; anything else would be a major surprise.
This time last year, Simon Cox was finalising his granny rule documents and preparing to make his first appearance in green after his goals for West Brom twigged Trapattoni’s attention. The Reading-born striker scored on his debut against Northern Ireland and went on to win three more caps in the weeks that followed, bagging his second international goal in the Liège friendly against Italy.
Cox hasn’t played a huge amount of games this season, making just 20 appearances for the Baggies under Roy Hodgson. That lack of game time would concern most players vying for a place in the squad but, in a revealing interview last month, the 25-year-old seemed confident that he would be a part of Trapattoni’s plans, thanking the Italian for showing such faith in him.
He was playing a lot more frequently in January and February when he was called up for the Czech Republic friendly and scored the late equaliser. But Trapattoni has said time and again that he values Cox’s versatility, seeing him as an additional wide option as well as an attacking threat.
He won’t be certain until his name is read off the page, but Cox should go.
It has been a long season for Jonathan Walters. With Stoke involved in four different competitions, the striker has already racked up a half-century of performances for the Potters and is expected to start in the final two games of the Premier League run-in as well.
Another man who was given his international debut by Trapattoni, Walters’s first Irish appearance came in the friendly against Norway in late 2010. He has only won five caps to date but proved that he can perform on the big occasions when he scored in the second leg of the play-off in Tallinn, a night when he proved to be complete handful up front alongside Robbie Keane.
Like Cox he can play out wide, an extra dimension which will appeal to Trap although he has been used in a more orthodox striker’s role by Stoke this season. Will be hoping to play himself into the starting XI in the pre-tournament warm-up games.
A couple of months ago, there was no point in debating who Robbie Keane’s first-choice strike partner would be. Kevin Doyle won the contest at a canter.
But the Wexford man’s club form with Wolves has been less than inspiring this season. He managed just four league goals all season, including a 13-game dry spell which ran from the end of October all the way through to the start of February.
Still, it is difficult to know how much weight Trapattoni will place on Doyle’s cold streak. He failed to pass a late fitness test before the Czech Republic friendly which may have given some indication of the manager’s take on the matter and so, until we learn otherwise, he’ll get the benefit of the doubt.
Of the five strikers named here — all of whom are expected to make the final 23 — Doyle perhaps has the most to worry about. How much game time will he get in Poland?
If Trap springs any shocks up front, it is more likely to come from him leaving one of the above five out in favour of an extra defender or midfielder rather than from him bringing a wildcard outsider.
Leon Best is the sixth man on a lot of people’s shortlists but his prospects vanished with the knee ligament injury which sidelined him in February. Now Marco Tardelli won’t even return his texts any more (or so he says).
Anthony Stokes is coming off the back of a 20-goal season with Celtic, but even that prolific campaign has failed to turn Trap’s head and the Italian remains completely disinterested in Stokes’s progress.
Conor Sammon is playing regular Premier League football at Wigan which should give him an advantage over most, but he’s yet to win a senior cap for Ireland and may have to wait until the Road to Rio for his full debut.