I’m at a bit of a loss, no pun intended, as to what to say about last Friday’s meltdown against Russia at the shiny new Aviva Stadium, which has big on atmosphere, small on football, at least as far as the home side were concerned. For in between my writing this and some of you possibly reading it, Ireland could well have gone to Slovakia and won, showing there’s more to their game than making a mockery of the FAI’s once-upon-a-time objections to Wimbledon coming to Dublin. Or is there?
Giovanni Trapattoni clearly set his stall out in this campaign to feed off whatever crumbs might come from feeding Kevin Doyle a strictly long-ball diet. Against the minnows it was possible to mix it up, which made the preponderance of long and high deliveries more palatable. But when we came up against a team that looked like it could present more of a threat Ireland reverted to Trapattoni route-one type; the illusion of sophistication in smithereens by the time Ireland pulled two goals back with the sort of gameplan you might expect with O’Gara or Sexton at the controls in what was/is Lansdowne Road.
This column copped way back (and it wasn’t exactly a groundbreaking discovery) that the vintage Italian simply didn’t trust his players to pass the ball. Naturally cautious, he wasn’t about to chance with a bunch of Irishmen what he didn’t dare risk with his far more technically-talented compatriots when he was in charge of his own national team. He’d play the percentages and by his calculation the Republic stood a better chance of getting somewhere by not rolling the dice, basically encouraging them – subliminally by his selections, if not baldly – to ‘get rid of it!’ and hope to score via a lucky break or set-piece.
Where it differed from Jack Charlton’s approach was that the Big Un’s strategy was predicated upon, to paraphrase the Larry Mullen hit, ‘putting ’em under pressure’, starting high up the pitch and closing things off in midfield. But whereas Trap is relying on Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle, Jack could summon Frank Stapleton/Niall Quinn/Tony Cascarino to combine with John Aldridge/Tommy Coyne/John Byrne or whomever. Kevin Doyle is the only target man we have, and Keane remains, for all his lack of game-time, rapidly diminishing pace, and grating gamesmanship, indispensable in an Irish context, even if Shane Long showed what a bit of brio can bring to the party when he came on to telling effect. Celtic duo Daryl Murphy (the Waterford man who scored twice in their 4-1 friendly win over Bohs at Dalymount on Sunday but doesn’t seem to be Trap’s type) and Anthony Stokes, still only 22, are also options.
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