If there were any concerns that the fallout of Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign as Republic of Ireland manager would continue to linger over the international set-up for a while yet, then the presence of several League of Ireland players at Gannon Park on Tuesday has firmly put those worries to bed.
While there’s no immediate indication of any of the domestic league’s stand-out performers, including the five on show in Malahide, breaking into the national team, this was further evidence that the Italian’s methods during his five-and-a-half year tenure won’t have a lasting effect.
Trapattoni enraged both Airtricity League players and fans by repeating his belief that “there was no league in Ireland” on two occasions while constantly overlooking the domestic game’s brightest talent. However, interim manager Noel King has quickly stamped his authority and highlighted his working relationship with the league by inviting five players to train with the senior squad as preparations intensify ahead of Friday’s trip to Cologne.
Dundalk quartet Richie Towell, Kurtis Byrne, Andy Boyle and John Sullivan were joined by Shamrock Rovers defender David Elebert in Malahide to assist in a training match ahead of the Group C encounter with runaway leaders Germany.
“I hope they enjoyed it,” King said after training. “I’ve done that myself, as a League of Ireland player, come into an international squad. At the under-21 level I bring in other lads as well.
“They’re doing us a favour which is great. I think they did enjoy it, so that’s the trade-off. We’ll give them a bit of dinner as well,” he said.
With King keeping his cards firmly close to his chest yesterday, the ‘tactical’ game gave the clearest indication yet as to what players will line-out at the RheinEnergieStadion. Captain Robbie Keane, Marc Wilson and Shane Long made their first appearance after joining the squad late on Monday evening with no new injury concerns to report.
Both sides adopted the 4-2-3-1 formation at a sun-kissed, albeit blustery, Malahide with several intriguing match-ups on show. On his return to the international set-up after a self-imposed exile, Darron Gibson partnered Wilson in the engine room for one team while Glenn Whelan and Gibson’s club teammate, James McCarthy, lined up as their counterparts.
Experienced duo Richard Dunne and John O’Shea are both suspended for the trip to Germany and are expected to be replaced by Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark and Sean St Ledger at centre-back.
The interim boss is certainly eager to impress during his temporary role and as well as trying to restore some pride in the green jersey after an indifferent year, the U21 manager knows two good results will enhance his reputation.
“It’s not about me or where I’m coming from,” he insisted. “It’s about where the group is coming from and what the group is trying to achieve.
“The group will be trying to get a victory against Germany - as audacious as that sounds, but there is no point in approaching it any different way.”
But King admitted he won’t let this opportunity wash over him either and is immensely proud to have been asked to take on the role, albeit briefly.