Never fear, Giovanni Trapattoni’s end is near

Giovanni Trapattoni brought the curtain down on his year’s work when he addressed the Sunday newspapers in the Clarion Hotel at Dublin Airport last Thursday morning.

Technically, Trap will be working hard between now and the end of the year.

If you ask the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), they’ll tell you that he’s always looking at players, looking at DVDs, looking at the permutations ahead of the final year of his current contract in 2011.

It will probably also be the final year of his time with Ireland, if the Irish if events of recent months and weeks are anything to go by.

The defeat to Norway last week, in front of just 30,000 fans at the Aviva Stadium, was Ireland’s third loss in four games at the new Fortress Lansdowne Road.

The Norwegians did get a late goal to condemn Ireland to their fourth defeat of 2010 -- Brazil, Argentina and Russia also beat us -- and even they admitted the win was fortunate to say the least.

But that’s irrelevant as far as the performance by the Irish team and, more significantly, its management is concerned.

The November friendly date is normally little more than a nuisance as far as the Ireland players are concerned.
It’s rarely a competitive game -- unless there’s one of those horrible playoffs involved -- and invariably players fall like flies with injuries in the build-up.

Last week, for example, seven of the players who missed the Norway game through injury managed to play for their clubs on Saturday, including the Aston Villa pair of Richard Dunne and Ireland new boy Ciaran Clark.

The date doesn’t do the players any favors. Their club managers don’t like friendlies anyway, and some of them were far from happy about the Norway game, in particular one Roy Keane.

He sent his defender Darren O’Dea over to play 45 minutes to aid his recovery from a recent injury, but the Celtic loanee was played for 67 minutes by Trapattoni.

Keane was annoyed with Trap and said so on Thursday, which made for some juicy headlines the following morning. He wasn’t the only unhappy camper.

The Norway game was only over when the Internet chat-rooms were abuzz with talk of Trap’s failure to hand Seamus Coleman his debut against the Scandinavians.

The 22-year-old former Sligo Rovers defender, from the Donegal fishing town of Killybegs, has been a sensation for Everton in the Premier League all season.

On Tuesday of last week, Trapattoni addressed the issue of Coleman with the Irish media and openly told us that he was looking forward to seeing the youngster in a green jersey. So were the rest of us.

By Wednesday night, there were suggestions, and more than one of them, on the fan forums that Trap should be sacked after leaving Coleman on the bench for the 94 minutes of dour football played by Ireland and Norway.

By Thursday, Trapattoni was defending his decision to leave Coleman waiting for a debut, possibly in the Carling Nations Cup clash with Wales in Dublin next February.

He spoke about his desire to see Coleman as a defender, something he couldn’t apparently do in a game where Ireland were defending a 1-1 scoreline for much of the match.

Trap even spoke of the need to leave Coleman on the bench and use the likes of Stephen Hunt and Aiden McGeady as subs to protect the result -- after a game Ireland lost.

He also spoke, as you will see elsewhere on these pages, of his lack of fear of the sack demanded by some of those frustrated by Coleman’s no-show last week.

What’s clear after all of this, and not for the first time, is that the Irish team is really no better off now under Trapattoni than it was under Steve Staunton in terms of anything other than organization.

The results are really no better. This year alone we’ve only beaten Armenia and Andorra in competitive games and Algeria and Paraguay in friendlies, drawing with Slovakia and losing the four matches mentioned earlier.

Progress is limited. A year after Paris -- lest we forget and lest you let that New York-based prat Thierry Henry forget it -- Irish football is really no further down the road to redemption.

We have seen the emergence of the likes of Paul Green, limited in ability by the way, and Greg Cunningham, who did get 90 minutes against the Norwegians but may yet be punished for his failings in the lead-up to their winner.

Shane Long is coming on nicely as an alternative to Robbie Keane upfront and Coleman, Marc Wilson and James McCarthy have shown real promise in the Premier League this season even if Trap has been slow to reward them.

But you know and I know that Trap will still turn to the old reliables when Macedonia come to the Aviva for Ireland’s next competitive match in March.

Shay Given could stay on the bench for every Manchester City game between now and then and still start in goal. John O’Shea, Dunne, Sean St. Ledger and Kevin Kilbane will still form the back four.

Midfield will probably be made up of Lawrence, Whelan, Andrews and Duff if they’re all fit.

And Keane will lead the attack alongside Kevin Doyle no matter how little football he plays with Spurs between now and then. Same old, same old.

The FAI won’t sack Trapattoni between now and the end of November, no matter what some Internet users have to say, but come the end of Ireland’s European Championship bid they won’t have to.

We won’t qualify, Trapattoni’s contract will expire and the FAI won’t be able to afford to keep him. The end is nigh.

Norway just proved it. Again.


Sideline Views

SOCCER: Some 130 League of Ireland players are now without clubs and looking for work. Little wonder then that the PFAI are organizing a trial match in January to showcase these players -- in Norway! In current circumstances, these Irish players simply have to go wherever they might gain a professional contract.

GOLF: The European Tour have confirmed that there will be an Irish Open next July, probably in Killarney, despite the withdrawal of sponsors 3, but I wouldn’t bet on it. With the economy the way it is now, it is going to be very, very difficult to find a new sponsor for such a costly event.

SOCCER: Rumors abound in Irish soccer circles that Packie Bonner’s contract as technical director with the FAI may not be renewed as a cost cutting measure. It will be a sad day for Irish football if the FAI can mortgage the Aviva and have to pay for it by making good guys like Packie redundant.

SOCCER: Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane won’t be happy that they both have something in common right now -- they are under serious pressure as managers of Wolves and Ipswich respectively after a heap of bad results. Their asses, as Mick would put it, are firmly in the bacon slicer.

SOCCER: Paul Cook is one of the great characters in League of Ireland football so the news that he has signed a new contract with FAI Cup winners Sligo Rovers is to be welcomed. The news that Galway United are the latest club in serious financial trouble is not so welcome.

GAA: Well done to the GAA club in Hong Kong who are actively helping would be Irish emigrants enquire about work in the Asian market. The club are even offering job advice via email at pro.hongkong.asia@gaa.ie.

GAA: Dessie Farrell and the GPA have just announced that 15% of all inter-county footballers and hurlers are now unemployed, which means the scourge of emigration is bound to hit county teams next summer.


HERO OF THE WEEK

Brian O’Driscoll scored a quite brilliant try as Ireland lost to the All-Blacks, again, on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium. The Irish captain reacted swiftly and decisively to scoop the ball on his way to the line and prove, once again, that he is the most creative and exciting player available to coach Declan Kidney. Such magic will be needed at the World Cup next year, so let’s hope O’Driscoll can stay fit and healthy between now and September.


IDIOT OF THE WEEK

Keith Fahey may be a decent player, but refusing to discuss his Ireland or Birmingham City careers at an FAI gig in Dublin last week was nothing short of ridiculous. Telling this journalist to “f*** off” when I suggested he was being rude may not have been too clever a move either. As one experienced pundit said, I’ll have ink long after his legs have gone.

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