The last time the Republic of Ireland squad took to the Gannon Park training pitch, the players cut forlorn figures as they came to terms with the consequences of another hugely disappointing and underwhelming evening during which any realistic hopes of World Cup qualification were ultimately dashed with defeat to Sweden.
Their professional pride and confidence levels were perilously close to sinking to rock bottom after a series of damaging results as time began to run out on Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure. However, just one month on, caretaker manager Noel King says the final two Group C fixtures represent more than simply an opportunity for the squad to restore some pride in the green jersey.
“I’m not here to and have no interest in restoring pride. I’ve an interest in taking the Germany game on it’s values first and foremost by looking at their team and ours to formulate a plan to be successful,” King told the media on Monday afternoon.
Taking to the training ground for the first time in his temporary role, the former Irish Women’s and current under-21 manager stamped his authority on proceedings from the outset as preparations began for the trip to Cologne on Friday. The 57-year-old’s hands on approach to the session was impressively evident, a style in complete contrast to what had gone before under Trapattoni.
Re-called trio Andy Reid, Celtic’s Anthony Stokes and Everton midfielder Darron Gibson all took a full part and will be eager to impress the interim boss on their return to the international set-up. However, there was a depleted feel to training, despite the significantly upbeat atmosphere, with no fewer than five of the squad forced to watch on from the Gannon Park dugout.
"There’s two games coming alongside each other which will be different I would imagine in style and tempo," King said. "The squad has been picked for those two games. Everybody in the 23 squad is in. They’re not in just to come and have a trip. We did reduce the squad and it’s difficult reducing the squad, so everyone who is there is there for a reason," King said.
"Whether that reason is a full 90 minutes, a half performance, a game against Kazakhstan, a half game against Kazakhstan, a half team against Germany, that will unfold. I don’t know yet."
Defenders Damien Delaney and Ciaran Clark were among those absent while Kevin Doyle, who has experienced a return to form at club level, also required more time to recover from his weekend’s exploits with Wolves.
King has the luxury of having several selection dilemmas ahead of the daunting encounter away to the runaway Group C leaders but is confident his squad of players have the ability to compete. The presence of both Reid and Gibson has boosted his options in the often criticised central areas and he wasn’t hesitant in complimenting the duo.
“Darron is extremely experienced, comfortable in possession and can pass with ease; he’s a good player,” King said of the Everton midfielder. He is equally impressed with Reid, who could add to his 27 caps on Friday, and out-of-favour Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan.
“I like Wes as a player and he gives us different options maybe that we hadn’t previously got. There is qualities in all our players but it’s not about the personalities but getting the most out of each individual,” he added.
With Sunderland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood having pulled out with a shoulder injury, Darren Randolph also sidelined and West Ham’s Stephen Henderson absent from Monday’s session, uncapped shot stopper Rob Elliot was given the chance to impress between the posts but regular David Forde is expected to retain his place despite a fragile few weeks with Millwall.
Elsewhere, Anthony Plikington, Shane Long and Robbie Keane were due to arrive at the team hotel late on Monday night with King confirming the LA Galaxy striker will captain the side should he be included in the starting line-up.
"The team is going to be picked from my head, from the staff’s head, from talking to people, looking at performances in training, looking at Germany and seeing who is well suited to do certain jobs on the park. That will be the team."
"If that happens to be the same team who went out the last game — well it can’t be [due to suspensions] — but if it was, that would just be pure coincidence."
He added: “I’ll look at the Germans and look at what we have that will cater for the occasion on the night. That’s how the team will be picked.”
There is no doubt King is an astute and accomplished tactician and is certainly not overawed by the task in hand. Unlike Trapattoni, he will wait until the last possible moment to name his side with little given away on his first’s days work.All in all, it seemed an impressive start for the former hard-tackling midfielder in his temporary role.