Tonight’s friendly against Serbia in Belgrade has been overshadowed by Shay Given’s decision to quit international football.
The record 125-times capped goalkeeper has been largely quiet since Ireland’s dismal performance in Euro 2012, where the Donegal man was not at his proven best and his announcement comes at a time when uncertainty of the futures of Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and captain Robbie Keane are still unclear.
Post-Euro 2012, Ireland’s thoughts turn to the fast approaching World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan on September 7th.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni has included several new faces in the squad ahead of tonight’s friendly with a view to giving fringe players international game-time. Most worthy of a mention is the inclusion of James McCarthy who missed the Euro campaign due to his father’s cancer earlier this year.
The Wigan man is determined to make his mark on tonight’s game and although his father is still battling hard the Scottish born player is the what this Ireland team desperately needs. Technically gifted and developing all the time, he is without a doubt Ireland’s only and most creative player and, thus, an Ireland team of the future must be built around him.
Sunderland winger James McCLean, who never got a look-in in Poland, expectantly starts as does Given’s former understudy Kieran Westwood.
Westwood is a damn fine goalkeeper but has the most unenviable task in international football, replacing one of the greatest goalkeepers to have ever played the game for club and country. The Sunderland shot-stopper has no other potential suitors to Given’s crown and is destined for the long-term between the sticks.
However, it isn’t just technically better players we need. Trap needs to move with the times and change his tactics especially his 4-4-2 formation. England aside, no other team in the Euro’s played the now old-fashioned system and European clubs and countries are revolutionising the game almost every year with new and innovative tactics. Heck, sure Spain won the thing without having a registered striker on the pitch at times. Alas, that’s Spain and we are Ireland.
Trapattoni has played 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 with his teams in the past, but only when he had the right players for the job and this depleted squad lacks the quality for change at present.
Tonight Paul McShane is in at right-back and Stephen Kelly at left-back as stand-in captain John O’ Shea moves to centre-back where he his joined by new Toronto FC signing Darren O’ Dea. Jonathan Walters partners Shane Long up front and one can see the long-ball tactic rearing its ugly head again as Walters strength is his best asset and Long’s pace his.
Fans will be hoping McCarthy can get on the ball and use his vision to find McClean and McGeady on the wings and feed the front men with quality ball. Glen Whelan will hold in the centre of the park, something he is well suited for.
Ireland must hit the ground running after a morale-sapping Euro campaign which has left fans broke, weary and wary of emotional attachment to a team in transition. With Shay gone the spine of the team has been dented and if further senior players decide to call it a day – Liam Brady has pointed to Ireland’s lack of quality coming through the youth ranks – Irish fans could be in for a decade or more of the dreaded ‘moral’ victories against superior opposition.