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Aiden McGeady Photo by: Google Images

The European Championships -- the countdown begins in earnest

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Aiden McGeady Photo by: Google Images

 McGeady in action against Bosnia in Dublin
The TV program may not have made it to the American screen, but anyone of a certain age will know the show that sums up the sporting life in Ireland right now – Countdown.

Men of a very certain age will immediately know the program as the show that brought the delightful Carol Vorderman to the world, the thinking man’s crumpet as she was once described.

The reason they called the show Countdown, I assume, was because a clock counted down as contestants tried to resolve Scrabble type conundrums.

And we are all in a bit of a countdown conundrum in Ireland this morning as I write. Everywhere you look there are countdowns.

As I speak to you, my one loyal reader in the Bronx and maybe even that crackpot from a few years ago, there are 10 days to the start of the European Championships. I can tell you this thanks to the back of my own Sun newspaper.

I can also tell you that there are 12 days now to Ireland’s opening game of the tournament, against Croatia in Poznan on Sunday week.

There are approximately 58 days to the start of the Olympics and, by my own reckoning, somewhere in the region of 80 days to the start of the new Premier League season.

Everything you see is a countdown. And countdowns, as Carol will tell you, can lead to voids. Particularly in the media.

That’s why everyone is trying to second guess Giovanni Trapattoni and getting nowhere fast.

On Saturday, Ireland played their final warm-up game before the Euros when they won 1-0 against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium.

It wasn’t a great match and it wasn’t a bad match. It was a typical farewell game but at least we didn’t lose this one, as we have done in the past on such occasions.

Typically the stadium announcer billed it as the final farewell and yes, they did play boxing anthem “The Final Countdown” before the match kicked off in earnest.

There were, as there always are in these games, winners and losers. James McClean played the full 90 minutes and did enough to suggest he will have a major role to play for Ireland in the future, but probably not as anything other than an impact sub in Poland.

Richard Dunne was back from injury and back to his best at the heart of the Irish defense, Darron Gibson looked lively in midfield and Aiden McGeady was absolutely brilliant when he came on for the second half, clearly well aware that young McClean is now breathing down his neck.

Robbie Keane wasn’t great. A knee to the ribs didn’t help, but he seems to have brought his recent lethargic form in the MLS home with him and did admit afterwards that he needs to sharpen up, an opinion probably shaped by a well-taken goal from his replacement and understudy Shane Long.

Keane wasn’t the biggest loser on the day, however.

Poor Keith Fahey is not my favorite person as you may remember of old, but that doesn’t mean he deserved the fate that befell him on Saturday when he felt an old groin injury during the warm-up for the match.

Fahey didn’t feel fit enough to play against Bosnia and was sent for a scan after the game that confirmed he will not be fit for the Euros.

By close of business on Saturday, he was out of the Euro squad and Paul Green was in, which is a major pity because Fahey can pass a ball as well as Carol Vorderman can pass a consonant on Countdown.

And there we are, right back where we started.

Everything, as I suggested earlier, can be counted in countdown terms right now, and we will all spend the next 12 days trying to analyze events last Saturday, trying to predict events on Sunday, June 10.

The truth is that Trapattoni won’t pay any attention to all our speculation.

He is already away from Ireland, away from the hype even if the media have traveled with him for this week’s training camp in Italy and Monday’s friendly in Hungary.

Trapattoni pays no attention to what anyone thinks of him. Just last week he told us he is not in the job to be anyone’s friend.

He will do what he thinks is best for Ireland in Poland and we can speculate all we want.

For what it is worth, I still think he will go with the tried and the trusted against Croatia in the opening game, and we will see an Irish team made up of Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St. Ledger, Ward, Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady, Keane and Doyle.

I’ll tell you if I am right on Sunday week, 12 days from now as I write.

Meanwhile, it’s back to the countdown and the one stat no one dares mention right now -- it could be just 21 days to the Irish team’s European Championship homecoming.

That’s the one countdown we are not talking about!

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Shay Given went to see his knee specialist in London last week, a well-respected medic by the name of Andy Williams. Hence lots of “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” lines in the Irish papers when the news broke. There were more musical references in the media when Shane Long revealed he will be playing a selection of Bob Marley hits on his guitar at the training camp in Italy this week. My favorite rename of a Marley hit by my Sun colleague Owen Cowzer was definitely Redemption Long. Followed by Duff-alo Soldier. Sorry.

SOCCER: Giovanni Trapattoni has almost gone so far as to say he is ashamed by the current match fixing scandal under investigation in his native Italy, but he must know that it may yet work in his favor. One Italian player has already been sent home from their Euro finals squad for his links to the affair and another is under investigation, all of which can only help Ireland’s chances of beating the Italians in their final group game at the Euros. I probably wouldn’t suggest to Trap that he should bet on it though!

SOCCER: Paul Green must be glad he left his mobile phone on last Saturday night. The former Derby County midfielder was enjoying a barbeque at his parents’ house when the phone rang and he was called into Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad as a late replacement for the injured Keith Fahey. Green said he hadn’t had a beer at that stage of the proceedings, but I’ll bet he had one afterwards.

SOCCER: The Irish team were special guests at a civic reception in Italy on Monday night to welcome them to the village that will host their training camp this week. The locals turned on the style in honor of Trapattoni and even turned out their brass band who played “Come On You Boys In Green” and a selection of Abba hits. “The Winner Takes It All” might have been appropriate.

SOCCER: Nice put down from Trapattoni on Sunday morning when he was asked about recent criticism of Aiden McGeady by former Irish captains Roy Keane and Andy Townsend.  Giovanni claimed to know of Keane but said he had never heard of Townsend -- and doubted he was always brilliant for Ireland in every match he played. Touché.

SOCCER: Spain won’t have David Villa for the Euros so they will probably have to make do with Fernando Torres against Ireland. God help them.

HERO OF THE WEEK

JAMES McClean may have burst onto the international scene with a vengeance in recent weeks, but Aiden McGeady is in no hurry to give him his starting place in the Irish team. He proved that much with a man of the match performance when he played the second half against Bosnia on Saturday and was quite brilliant. Robbie Keane reckons McGeady can light up the tournament in Poland this summer. He may well be right.

IDIOTS OF THE WEEK

A LOT of “experts” in Ireland right now can’t understand why Wes Hoolahan wasn’t called into the Ireland squad as a replacement for the injured Keith Fahey on Saturday night. Clearly they don’t get Giovanni Trapattoni’s views on football and how he likes his teams to play. Trap has no interest in ball players like Hoolahan or Andy Reid. That’s why he went for Paul Green on this occasion. It will take a change of manager to get Hoolahan another cap.

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