The more things change, the more they stay the same


Ireland have broken their rut by qualifying for the European Championships, but Trapattoni is unlikely to change his team ahead of the tournament, writes Aaron Kennedy.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s conservative selection policy will be put to the test when he sits down to select his Irish squad for Euro 2012, which commences on the 8th June. Since he took over the Republic of Ireland job four years ago, he hasn’t made many changes, partially due to a lack of choice, but now his horizons have expanded with some Irish talent stepping up in the Premier League and SPL.

Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark has shown how he can mix with some of the best in the Premier League, and will be full of confidence after making his debut against Wales in the Aviva Stadium. It is unclear as of yet if he shall join the 2012 squad, but it is also doubtful that if he does make it that he will feature in any starting line-up Trapattoni puts out.

The on-and-off form of Newcastle striker Leon Best have left opinions split about his ability. He has failed to find the net in seven games for Ireland, with many, including Trapattoni, questioning his work rate and fitness, since he normally fails to finish any games he starts with Newcastle.

Two Norwich City players who have made an impression in the Premier League this season are Wesley Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington. Both players have not had much of a look into Trapattoni’s side. Hoolihan has a solitary cap for his nation, while Pilkington is still awaiting his debut.

Pilkington has netted five times this season for the newly promoted side, but it is his teammate Hoolahan who is the most likely candidate for a spot in the squad since Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli have been watching him all season long, and he won his cap under Trapattoni in 2008.

Ireland haven’t had to worry about their goalkeeping situation since Shay Given established himself in 2000, but the Villa goalkeeper has suffered several injuries recently, including a torn hamstring.

If Given were to miss out on Euro 2012, Trapattoni would be left with a serious dilemma. QPR’s Paddy Kenny gained seven caps for the Republic of Ireland during 2004-2006 but has not featured in a single game since. He has been solid for QPR, but he is out of favour with the Italian manager, and Sunderland’s Keirin Westwood is the man most likely to be called upon should Given get injured.

Cillian Sheridan and Anthony Stokes have been impressing in the SPL. Sheridan is on loan from CSKA Sofia to St. Johnstone and has netted four times in thirteen appearances. It is highly doubtful that he will make the squad if all the regulars such as Keane and Walters are fit.

Anthony Stokes is netting week in, week out in the SPL and it shows how efficient the striker really is. He has netted thirty-four goals in sixty-five appearances for Celtic as well as gaining four caps for Ireland. Along with Shane Long, Stokes is one of the players that Trapattoni does not utilise correctly.

Former UCD striker Conor Sammon will be hoping to acquire a place in the squad for the Euros but his hopes may be dashed due to a slow start at Wigan Athletic. He has netted just one goal in twenty-one appearances for the struggling side, and with the numerous striking options open to Trapattoni, he will most likely join the likes of Best, Stokes and Sheridan in being left behind for Euro 2012.

Sunderland’s James McClean has impressed since getting a look in by new manager Martin O’Neill. He confirmed this month that he would not be reconsidering his decision to play for the Republic of Ireland, after contact from Michael O’Neill to play for Northern Ireland.

McClean has been in fine form of late, but like many emerging players, his hopes may have been dashed after Trapattoni announced that the squad who qualified deserves their place on the plane to Poland/Ukraine, leaving new players a difficult task to try to squeeze into the squad. Damien Duff’s incessant injuries could see him miss out on a place, which could leave McClean with a chance to claim his role on the right wing.

Trapattoni has strongly emphasised that he will stick to the players he used in qualifications. The two players with the strongest chances of creeping into the squad are James McLean and Wes Hoolahan, but even they may not make it depending on the fitness of regulars.

Despite the criticism he receives for his conservative selection policy, changes are unlikely, since Trap’s conservatism has seen Ireland qualify for the Euros. However, no one will complain if his intransigence is vindicated and Ireland have a successful tournament.