The Derby County forward comes in for his first competitive international start tonight and has the opportunity to impress where others have failed
By Peter Staunton
Giovanni Trapattoni does not usually pick players on club form. It doesn't win him many admirers. People see the likes of Anthony Pilkington doing well on Match of the Day and want him in the Ireland team. After watching potential squad members in their domestic leagues Trapattoni assesses their usefulness for his system and selects them on those criteria, and not on whether or not they have played well for three or four matches in a row.
Were he to pick players in good touch then he might have considered Yeovil Town's Paddy Madden, for example, who has scored 20 League One goals this season. And, perhaps, striker is the one position on the pitch that could arguably go to a form player. The drilling in the defence and midfield is crucial to assure familiarity and trust in an international strategy but there is room for a little bit of unpredictability up front. But Trapattoni, so far, has resisted that urge.
Even so, of all the strikers available to Trapattoni for the Group C World Cup qualification match against Austria in Dublin, it could be said that Conor Sammon, on first inspection, would be least likely to start.
Kevin Doyle's international goalscoring record is admittedly modest but he has scored nine competitive goals in green as opposed to, say, Shane Long, who has just the one. Jonathan Walters, instead, has scored two competitive goals for his country and, like Doyle, has been on target in this qualification campaign - against the Faroe Islands. Andy Keogh, more winger than forward for Trapattoni, notched a consolation goal against Germany in injury time.
Sammon, at 26, is coming in for his first competitive start at a time when Trapattoni desperately needs a forward to make a profound impact. Robbie Keane's international form has been questionable since his move to MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy and he seems to currently lack the goalscoring prowess, and relentless energy, that marked him out as one of the most reputable international strikers in the game. In any case he is unavailable. But with that unavailability comes the realisation that, under Trapattoni, the other strikers selected have simply not been pulling their weight.
Ireland have scored 41 competitive goals under Trapattoni since he took over as manager in 2008. Robbie Keane has scored 14 of them. That's close to 35 per cent. Not many other countries have been as reliant on a talisman as Ireland have been on Keane. But the times are changing. And Sammon, where the others have tried and come up short, now has his opportunity.
Like Walters and Long, he is capable of occupying defenders but has not proved himself yet in the English Premier League like the other two. But he scores with relative regularity in the Championship and has all the attributes to disrupt the likes of Emmanuel Pogatetz and the emerging Aleksandar Dragovic, who will one day make an excellent international centre back.
Again there have been calls for Wesley Hoolahan to be fielded from the outset in the place of Sammon and in behind Long in attack. At the pre-match press conference, Trapattoni admitted that he 'loved' the former Shelbourne man but said that he would have to bide his time until after half-time before assessing the lie of the land. Hoolahan has the ability to dictate matches, even at international level, but for the moment he will have to do so when sprung from the bench.
No place either for Robbie Brady on the wing despite a call for Walters to play up front. Even without the farrago of his non-selection in Sweden, the young Dubliner would be unlikely to start this fixture. Christian Fuchs, the Schalke left-back, is much better attacking than he is defending and it would have asked a lot, and, indeed, blunted his impact if Brady was tasked with following him into Ireland's half. Walters, on the other hand, is accustomed to the role having played there for Stoke and has the stamina and strength to unnerve Fuchs.
The absence of Doyle and Simon Cox from the starting line-up should be seen as a positive development by Ireland fans as neither performed well in the European Championships. Both were passengers.
Trapattoni has swept the decks of the Ireland squad since his players let him down in Poland with only two of tonight's starting XI, John O'Shea and Glenn Whelan, seen as starters at the Euros.
The time for renewal is upon us and up front, lacking Keane, Ireland need a man to stand up and be counted.