Three upcoming friendly matches at the end of the English league season would have been an opportune moment to run the rule over domestic-based talent
By Peter Staunton
Giovanni Trapattoni missed an ideal opportunity to name a League of Ireland player in his list of 28 for the upcoming matches against England, Georgia, Faroe Islands and Spain. Granted, the vital World Cup qualifier against the Faroes is not the time for experimentation but the friendlies in Wembley, Dublin and New York should have provided the right moment for Ireland's management and coaching staff to assess some of the top talent within the Airtricity League.
The Irish national team scene, in the past 12 months, has undergone some major changes with almost an entire generation of personnel having departed. In the place of some of the veterans have come bright young players with good pedigree and a decent future in the game ahead of them like Robbie Brady and James McCarthy.
The squad named for these end-of-season fixtures is a mix of the old and new. For every Brady there is a Damien Delaney - a player long known to Trapattoni and unlikely to improve or offer anything new to the squad at this stage of his career.
For his own benefit and in the interest of increasing the options around his squad, Trapattoni could have used the Georgia fixture at least to afford some of the Premier Division's best talents some game time or even the experience of being convened in an international set-up. He is hardly going to have a game with lower stakes in which to do so for the rest of his tenure.
Moreover, it is detrimental and indeed disheartening for Irish footballers to come through the ranks as youth players only to see a place in the national squad taken by an Englishman parachuted in at senior level. Take this example: Richie Towell, currently at Dundalk and playing excellently after moving from Celtic, has served his international apprenticeship with caps at various different age levels.
In other European countries this experience could act as a useful indicator for a player's suitability to international football and each age group would represent a milestone towards gaining a senior cap. However, aside from native competitors for a slot in the squad, Towell's progress is halted by the introduction of, say, Paul Green - a journeyman lower league English player who has long since passed that moment in his career in which he could have been described as promising.
Towell's experience in the underage set-up counts for nothing as he sees imported players promoted ahead of him. That kind of fast-tracking only serves to show burgeoning talent that obstacles which were non-existent at youth levels become apparent when on the brink of the senior set-up. Why sabotage promising careers for the sake of Paul Green?
I dare say, Towell's international aspirations might have been better catered for had he stayed on Celtic's bench for the duration of another contract instead of returning home for first-team football. That he moved to Dundalk should not count against him. It makes him no less a player.
By including players currently performing well in the League of Ireland, Trapattoni would signal to a Ronan Finn or a Barry McNamee that they are in his sights and that they are valid for selection.
He is a manager serving an association which scheduled a post-match press conference in October for the same time and the same day as a Premier Division title decider. They should at least pretend they care.
The players in the League of Ireland should be picked on merit too and not pity. A good number of the current Irish set-up, including Seamus Coleman and James McClean, began their careers in the League of Ireland and didn't become international standard overnight on the basis that they transferred to English clubs. Rather they showed their talent and began to develop it before crossing the channel. It's wrong that promising players are not considered legitimate candidates until the go abroad.
By including them in international squads, the FAI would send out the message to players and clubs that they are on the radar, that their efforts are recognised and could be rewarded. Seeing players from local sides could, possibly, also increase the profile of the league and lead to a boost in attendances. Noel King, manager of the under-21s, regularly picks Chris Forrester of St Patrick's Athletic in his squads now while Sligo Rovers' David Cawley and Cork City's Daryl Horgan are also on the scene. That sort of integration is to be lauded, encouraged and replicated by the senior set-up.
So long as Irish football thinks itself as inferior then that is how it will remain.