It was classic Dunphy: the initial challenge was hard but fair; the follow-through totally over the top.
Having quickly turned on every Irish manager since Johnny Giles, the moment Eamon went after Giovanni Trapattoni wasn’t long arriving.
“I supported his appointment but that was a shocking performance,” he spat after Ireland held out for a nervy one-nil win over Cyprus at Croke Park last Wednesday. “If that was Steve Staunton, Mick McCarthy, or Brian Kerr… or Jack Charlton… they’d be getting plenty of welly… it’s absolutely outrageous.”
Urging Johnny to agree, Eamon pleaded: “You say it, you say it, it means more if you say it… they think I’m mad.” But Giles, who’d observed disconcertingly at half-time that “We’re playing with no midfield”, refused to couch his criticism in such terms; but “I’d be very, very hurt if Eamon thought I was backing off.”
In his weightier opinion Sunderland’s Andy Reid is a better player than either Glenn Whelan or Darron Gibson and “should be in the team.” (Something that Roy Keane, unusually, regards as something of nothing and none of his business.)
Adamant that the central partnership’s inexperience and lack of inventiveness was badly exposed at this level, Dunphy summarised the situation during the interval as “Two lads who are playing reserve football for their clubs [Stoke and Man U respectively]. The occasion’s too much for them… They’re way out of their depth.”
Ronnie Whelan concurred that the game was “crying out for Andy Reid”, whose actual abilities seem to have become a bit overblown in that absence-makes-the-heart-grow fonder sort of way. Dunphy, as usual, went further, saying that to persevere without him in deference to Whelan and Gibson is “perverse”, and “eccentric”. (A touch of the pot, kettle, blacks, perhaps.)
But Bill O’Herlihy reasonably pointed out that, three games into the qualifying campaign the “consensus” was that Ireland are going well: seven points from a possible nine putting us second in the group behind world champions Italy and two wins (against Georgia and Bulgaria) from hopefully going 10 points clear of the latter.
However, Dunphy, once the tormentor of what he coined ‘Official Ireland’, retorted: “I don’t care what the consensus says.” Of course it’s not the first time he’s been prompted to harangue an Irish manager on the basis of a player he feels have been wronged. Previous cause celebres have included Liam Brady and David O’Leary, whose treatment by ‘Big Jack’ led Dunphy to brand Charlton a bully.(Or was that because of the becapped one’s antipathy towards that “bitter little man”?)
But is this personal or tactical? Given Trapattoni’s underlying, if not overbearing, defensive instincts it may well be that, with two out-and-out wingers, and a hard-working pair up top, he simply wants a couple of ‘holding’ central midfielders instead of the customary ‘one go, one sit’ combination.
But now, given the long-term absence of Blackburn’s injury-prone Steven Reid, who was the 69-year-old’s preferred option as the main midfield defensive shield, can he afford to depend on the inexperienced and frankly flawed Whelan/Gibson formula, especially against the better sides in the group?
However, the argument that Trapattoni has merely decided on a set system and will stick with it no matter what anyone says, not least the media, doesn’t tally with his attitude before the August friendly with Norway (1-1) when he spoke glowingly about what Reid would bring to his ideal team heading into the World Cup campaign.
“Andy is creative, has great vision and can create opportunities for us. He has a classic Italian style, like Liam Brady perhaps. There is certainly a continental influence there. I’ll be looking for him to show strong character and determination.”
So what’s changed his mind so dramatically in the meantime? Reid has let it be known that he’s dying to be involved (his recent all-action display against Arsenal showing a whole new side to a player whose backside has too often overshadowed his talent) but he has yet to set foot on the pitch under Trapattoni. So is being left sat on the sideline meant to be a test of his ‘strength of character’?
Apparently Brady, Trapattoni’s joint-assistant, had some animated exchanges with his old Juventus boss during last week’s game about the need to change things as the Cypriots seized control. However, until the injury-time debut by Caleb Folan, the closest anyone came to being sprung from the bench was when the manager fell off the end as Brady and the ever-expressive Marco Tardelli leapt up to celebrate Robbie Keane’s early winner.
The Irish member of the elaborate managment mix was seen as a fan of Andy Reid during Staunton’s time in charge. However, Brady often openly criticised the former Notts Forest, Spurs and Charlton player’s ‘conditioning’. To wit, it seems clear at this stage that Trapattoni and Reid had a bit of a barney in the team’s German hotel after the Georgia game when the manager broke up a late night sing-song involving Reid, other players, and coaching staff.
Whatever his rationale, the apparent refusal to play Reid (“I can’t turn him into a worker”) is ironic given the Irish management’s desire not to further upset that sensitive soul Stephen Ireland, another creative midfielder (and storyteller) we could well do with, but who doesn’t want anything to do with us, no matter how much his insecurities – and ego – are pandered to.