By Micil Glennon
And then there were 23.
The countdown can well and truly begin now. On Monday afternoon, in front of a packed conference room in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Giovanni Trapattoni announced his 23-man squad, plus a standby list of five, for the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
The main talking point was the unfortunate exclusion of Wigan’s James McCarthy, who told the management two weeks ago that his father had been diagnosed with cancer and he was withdrawing his name for consideration. Given the reluctance of the Italian to use the midfielder, he has played three minutes of competitive international football, the withdrawal will not have much of an adverse effect on the team in a playing sense.
The rumour mill around the identity of the mystery player had thrown up the names of Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady, both frontline members of the team whose exclusion would have had more serious connotations. Trap confirmed that McCarthy would have been in the squad but who benefited from his withdrawal?
“It’s not important,” said the manager, cleverly avoiding an awkward conversation.
James McClean’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Playing with Derry City in the League of Ireland last summer, the 23-year-old has graduated to Premier League regular and now Euro 2012 squad member in the space of 10 months. But will he get any game-time? The schedule of the group games suggests that he is in with a good shout.
“When we have three games in ten days we need players who [give us] options, like [Damien] Duff or [Aiden] McGeady, in the third game [McClean] can be important,” said Trapattoni. Probably exactly what Stephen Hunt didn’t want to hear.
McClean later tweeted how honoured he was to be included in the squad but also had a go at some of the Twitter users who had given him stick on hearing the announcement: “Love the dogs abuse am gettin of shock N.I fans, just worry about watchin ur own country at the euros.... oh wait #mybad #awkward haha.”
Someone needs to have a word.
Apart from the inclusion of the Sunderland winger, signalled last Monday by Trapattoni, there was little else of note in the squad, not surprising given the conservative nature of the 73-year-old and his unshakable belief in the system. As expected, three goalkeepers, seven defenders, eight midfielders and five strikers make the trip.
The backline is set in stone, barring injury. Shay Given will have John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger and Stephen Ward standing in front of him. Stephen Kelly would be most likely to come in if either full back gets injured while Darren O’Dea is the third-choice central defender. Kevin Foley will act as cover and can slot into midfield if necessary.
It is hard to look beyond a starting midfield of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews with Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff providing the width. It will be interesting to see if it’s McClean or Hunt, who has been troubled by a groin injury recently, who strips off when Duff or McGeady tire after the hour mark. Keith Fahey is trusted and has never put a foot wrong when called upon. Darron Gibson lies further down the order.
The place up front beside captain Robbie Keane will provoke some debate in the run-up to the Croatia match on June 10. Trapattoni has been adamant in the past that a fit Kevin Doyle will start games. But the Wolves striker has had a poor season and needs to show the manager, in the upcoming friendlies against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary, that he is up for it. Shane Long, Simon Cox and Jon Walters have all impressed when used and Trap will have this in mind.
The exclusions of Paul McShane and Andy Keogh, once Trap favourites, were on the cards with the two men having slipped down the ladder over the last six months. They make the standby list alongside Darren Randolph, Paul Green and Seamus Coleman.
So, 34 days to go, the good news is that after 10 years Ireland are back at the top table of international football, the bad news is that Jedward will be unavoidable for the next six weeks.