At least Celtic’s Neil Lennon doesn't disappoint


Stephen Kelly.

Expectation can be a manager or coach’s best friend and biggest enemy as events in Dublin and Glasgow in recent days have served to prove.

By the time you read this, Glasgow Celtic will have played Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out clash, potentially the biggest game of any of their lives.

The build-up to the match has been intense. Our colleagues at the Scottish Sun devoted nine pages to the game on Tuesday morning, and several Irish papers even sent their soccer correspondents to Glasgow for the day.

Neil Lennon, the much under-rated Celtic manager, was both enthusiastic and confident before the clash, and we wouldn’t expect anything from less from a man who has never been afraid to wear his heart or his convictions on his sleeve.

By the time this column appears those of you who care about Celtic -- and there are many all across the world -- will know what became of Lenny’s ambition against the grand old lady of Italian football.

Before this column was put together, with tender loving care as always, two other coaches learned a little more about their fate when expectation meets reality in the world of top class sport.

Last week, the Irish footballers beat Poland 2-0 in a Dublin friendly that looked beyond them for much of a Wednesday evening at the Aviva Stadium.

The result will serve our soccer stars well ahead of the World Cup showdowns with Sweden and Austria next month, but the events that followed don’t augur quite so well for our national team boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Italian famously fell out with the mild-mannered Reading defender Stephen Kelly last October when the Dubliner stormed out of the team’s hotel ahead of the trip to the Faroes.

Kelly’s unhappiness, similar to outbursts from the likes of Andy Reid, Darron Gibson and Kevin Foley, was based on a lack of opportunity under Trap.

He was particularly aggrieved that, like Gibson, he never got a sniff of the action, even when all was lost at the European Championships in Poland last September.

When told to stay or go Kelly went, only to be enticed back by the FAI, well aware that one of their senior players was being poorly treated by their manager.

That should have been the end of the matter, even when the story went public.  Trap was told as much after hanging onto his job by the skin of his teeth in the wake of the 6-1 defeat to Germany.

Imagine the FAI’s surprise, then, when Trap chose to have another pop at Kelly in his post-match press conference last Thursday, suggesting the player wanted a “play me or else” guarantee from his manager.
Nothing, as anyone who has ever met Kelly will tell you, could be further from the truth, and the defender wasn’t slow to let the public know via a statement issued on Friday morning.

The telling response from the FAI, printed elsewhere on these pages, was to take issue with Trapattoni’s behavior, admit it was wrong and all but confirm that his days as boss are over as soon as our interest in the World Cup qualifying stakes comes to an end.

That could be just five weeks from now if we lose to Sweden and Austria.  And by then Declan Kidney could be out of a job as well.

As discussed on this page just a few shorts week ago, Kidney and Trap have to deliver in the coming weeks or their reigns will end.

Both still have time to rectify matters, but there was little in Ireland’s drab performance in Sunday’s Six Nations defeat to England at the same Aviva to suggest they can still pull the championship out of the fire.
Expectations were great going into that England game, and Team Ireland failed to deliver.

In such circumstances someone has to pay the price. Declan Kidney’s name is on that check, and Giovanni Trapattoni’s signature is all that’s missing from the FAI pay-off check.

Only time will tell us where this story is going to end – and a short time span at that.

Grown Up Darragh a Star
A WONDERFUL story unfolded at Croke Park on Sunday, one that was never going to compete with the Six Nations or Giovanni Trapattoni’s latest rant for the back page headlines but one that was far more worthy of column inches.

Six years ago or so, Darragh McGarry’s story touched the hearts of the nation when he stood on the steps of the Hogan Stand and helped Henry Shefflin lift the McCarthy Cup on behalf of Kilkenny people everywhere.