By Ed Leahy
Ireland take on Germany in Cologne tonight knowing that a decent performance will be the key factor for the post-Trapattoni Irish side.
Noel King takes charge of the senior international team for the first of two competitive fixtures over the next five days to see out Ireland’s much-maligned, failed, 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The current Ireland Under-21 boss is excited and proud to be handed the reins of this most prestigious of posts and as a loyal servant of Irish football, King is certainly entitled to his 15 minutes in the throes of top-class international football.
But King is filling a gap. His FAI paymaster John Delaney has already put a dampener on the position saying that the former Shamrock Rovers midfielder would not be handed the position on a permanent basis.
First impressions of King’s reign, however, were encouraging as he spoke on Monday ahead of the team meeting.
“I’ll mostly be listening,” said King, as he explained that he was anxious to hear the thoughts of the players ahead of plotting his strategy for the two games.
Players will immediately warm to a manager whose style is an inclusive one and it would appear that King is determined to make sure that the squad enjoy these two games to hopefully tap in to that ‘fighting Irish’ camaraderie that has been sadly lacking at too many instances throughout this campaign.
But the manager’s job is a tough one and the squad selection does emphasise that there is a distinct lack of quality in-depth at his disposal.
Bringing Andy Reid in from the cold and getting Darron Gibson back involved were good public relations manoeuvres but the mighty Germans will hardly be quaking in their lederhosen at the thoughts of taking on a team that they demolished in their own back yard at the start of the campaign.
The best King and Ireland can hope for in this Cologne clash will be a spirited, well-organised and disciplined performance, with damage-limitation being a key factor playing against a far-superior opposition.
Even King knows that a certain amount of Trapattoni-style tactics will need to be employed against the group leaders with a strong emphasis likely to be placed on hard-working, energetic players.
Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, André Schürrle, Mario Goetze, Bastian Schweinsteiger - the German team is a veritable who’s who of elite European footballers.
Joachim Loew’s side came to the Aviva and produced a footballing master class to hammer Ireland 6-1 through a combination of patient passing football and clinical finishing, and there is nothing to indicate that they are not capable of handing out a similar beating on their home patch, especially knowing that they can secure World Cup qualification with victory.
The withdrawal of Keiren Westwood and Darron Randolph will ensure that David Forde continues as Ireland’s number one, but the new manager has some big decisions to make in the heart of his defence as Richard Dunne and John O’Shea miss out through suspension.
Damien Delaney was not named in King’s initial 26-man squad, yet the Crystal Palace centre-half showed up alongside the manager at Thursday’s press conference, which would indicate that the 32-year-old could be in line to win his eighth Ireland cap.
And while King will have a strong sense of his starting XI, the new boss has chosen not to follow in Trapattoni’s footsteps by naming the side the day before the match.
“I don’t have to name it now, so why should I?” said King. “It’s an extra day for us, a bit more knowledge with tonight’s (Thursday’s) session and then we’ll see.
"They [the players] will know first, they will definitely know first. They will know in the morning."
Again these are positive actions by Trapattoni’s successor and one which the players will appreciate, and it also really highlights the absurdity of naming your starting XI 24 hours before obligations dictate.
Should Delaney start in the middle of defence, surely Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark will get the nod to play alongside him, with Marc Wilson and Seamus Coleman either side of the centre-halves.
King will need to employ a hard-working midfield unit to challenge the mighty Germans but whether he plays four or five across the middle of the park remains to be seen.
If Robbie Keane is to start, Ireland will hopefully line out in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation as the LA Galaxy striker is not ideal at leading the line on his own, however, Keane is nursing an injury and is now a major doubt ahead of the game.
Darron Gibson’s return from his self-imposed exile will likely see him start alongside Everton team-mate James McCarthy in the middle of the park with Glenn Whelan starting on the bench.
Gibson has only played 30 minutes of Premier League football this season, coming on as a substitute against Manchester City last weekend, so it will be a gamble to start the Everton man ahead of Whelan, however, the Stoke midfielder has not been an automatic choice for his club this season and only played half an hour last weekend.
Anthony Pilkington is likely to fill one of the wide berths in King’s selection, while Aiden McGeady and James McClean are the probable candidates for the other flank, with the Andy Reid fairytale return perhaps being reserved for Tuesday’s game against Kazakhstan.
Should injury rule Keane out of the game, the manager may have a complete re-think about how to set out his 11 without his record goalscorer.
Shane Long is sure to lead the line, either with Keane alongside or in front of a five-man midfield, which could possibly facilitate the best ball-playing member of the squad, Wes Hoolahan.
Choosing Hoolahan would certainly prove a popular decision amongst pundits and fans, and while the Norwich playmaker’s inclusion would be unlikely to lead to an Ireland victory, it would certainly offer glimpses of what might be in future campaigns.
Live television coverage of Germany v Republic of Ireland from 19:00 on Friday 11 October on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (ROI). Live radio coverage on Game On from 19:00 on RTÉ 2fm and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).