By Ryan Kelly
Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni admitted that 2012 was a bittersweet year. While hailing the qualification for Euro 2012 as a success, the Italian recognised that his team's performance at the tournament was abysmal. The opening fixtures of the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign yielded two wins and a loss, but six points from nine did not mask the extraordinary deficiencies within Trapattoni's team.
A literal last-minute winner against lowly Kazakhstan in the opening game was followed by an utterly humiliating 6-1 home defeat to Germany, a result which, despite a convincing 4-1 win away to the Faroe Islands four days later, will take a long time for Irish fans to forget.
Turning his attention to 2013, the Boys in Green manager is keen to encourage his players to play with confidence and belief in their ability to compete with any team.
"I think the most important thing for 2013 is that I know the squad has the awareness that they can compete with everyone," Trapattoni told reporters in December 2012. "The important thing for me is that the squad plays with the same determination and spirit that has always characterised Irish teams in the past, that they show they are not afraid of any opposition."
The proverbial 'old-guard' sustained a titanic blow to their morale at Euro 2012, something which is perhaps personified in the retirement of two of Irish football's most celebrated players, Shay Given and Damien Duff. However, Trapattoni's demeanour has been surprisingly refreshing since the debacle in Poland, speaking in relatively positive terms about his players, making an effort to personally watch potential squad members and slowly ushering in a new generation.
If Trapattoni's Ireland is to play with 'determination and spirit', it is imperative that the former Italy and Juventus coach injects a fresh impetus into the squad, by including new players. Here Goal.com takes a look at five uncapped players that could bolster the Irish squad.
Norwich City goalkeeper Mark Bunn recently declared his intention to play for Ireland, after being approached by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) in the autumn of 2012.
The London-born shot-stopper is well-travelled, having played for Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City and Sheffield United, and is currently plying his trade at Carrow Road, where an injury to John Ruddy has facilitated his ascension.
With the retirement of Shay Given and incumbent Keiren Westwood warming the bench at Sunderland, the 28-year-old custodian would provide added competition for the number one jersey.
With the uncertainty that surrounds the self-imposed exile of Darron Gibson, Derby County midfielder Jeff Hendrick could be the one to step in and fill the void. Already a regular with Nigel Clough's team, the 20-year-old midfielder is a player with great potential.
Hendrick has scored five goals for the Rams this season and if he can continue his impressive performances for the Rams, a call-up from Trapattoni should soon follow.
Capped at both under-19 and under-21 level for the Boys in Green, the Dubliner possesses an athleticism that is currently absent in the current Irish midfield.
A degree of mystery surrounded Blackburn-born Anthony Pilkington at the beginning of the 2012/2013 season. Despite attracting attention for his impressive performances for Norwich City in the Premier League, the one-time Ireland under-21 international had failed to warrant an inclusion in the senior Irish squad.
Giovanni Trapattoni insisted that the onus was entirely the 24-year-old winger, who apparently had to submit paperwork to the FAI in order to become eligible to play. However, in December 2012, Pilkington firmly nailed his colours to the mast and indicated his desire to represent the Boys in Green. The Canaries attacker may even be in line for his first cap in February against Poland, with Trapattoni hailing his attributes.
"His physical and technical attributes are there for everyone to see," said the Italian. "He is a bit different from Damien Duff, Liam Lawrence, Stephen Hunt and even James McClean. He is able to offer a lot in different areas of the pitch."
At the age of 21, Aidan White already possesses an abundance of experience. The Leeds United player has had two loan spells with Oldham Athletic and has since cemented his place in the United team.
Having switched allegiance from England in 2011, White has gone on to make 10 under-21 appearances under Noel King, where he impressed predominantly on the wing, but he is also equally capable of filling in at left back.
A speedy and intelligent left-footed player, White could provide added competition for Robbie Brady, James McClean and Aiden McGeady on the wing, as well as an alternative at left back.
Former UCD, St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers defender Enda Stevens has broken into the Aston Villa team this season, not long after making his move from Tallaght Stadium.
Although forming part of a struggling Villa side, the 22-year-old's growing experience at the top level in England means that he could become a potential answer to Ireland's chronic left-back problem.
Stevens is a skilful attacking full back with a tremendous cross and his cavalier style of play would strike a balance with that of Seamus Coleman at right back.
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