by Ed Leahy
The Twenty-three have been named and five more remain on standby as Giovanni Trapattoni announced his Republic of Ireland squad for next month’s European championships in Poland and Ukraine.
No alarms and no surprises from Senor Trapattoni as James McClean was selected, while James McCarthy’s withdrawal confirmed rumours of a senior player missing out.
In the goalkeeping department, Premier League pair Shay Given and Keiren Westwood have been given the nod, as expected, and they are joined by Milwall’s David Forde.
The manager, however, will be hoping that this is one position that remains consistent throughout the tournament, with no need to call on the reserve keeper, never mind third choice.
Given has picked up some injuries in recent years but is fighting fit at the moment and back to his best playing in a weak Aston Villa side.
Westwood was always going to travel as number two and should something happen to Given, through injury or suspension, the Sunderland stopper is the most experienced keeper available to fill the Lifford man’s gloves, not counting Paddy Kenny, of course, as he has never really been an option in the manager’s eyes.
Any team in the tournament would be unlucky – or playing really badly – to be calling upon their third-choice keeper, so the selection of David Forde ahead of Darren Randolph may be a personality choice or the Millwall’s keeper’s positive presence in previous squads.
The clean sheet kept in the 2-0 friendly victory over Italy last June was probably the deciding factor.
Trapattoni had already confirmed that he was only bringing seven defenders, with the usual suspects making the grade. Several of the selection can play in two or three of the defensive positions, which allowed the manager to sacrifice a player in this department.
Paul McShane’s place on the standby list underlines Trapattoni’s unwavering loyalty regarding squad selection, instead of taking a chance on an up-and-coming player like Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark.
McCarthy’s withdrawal may have eased Trapattoni’s selection headache as Darron Gibson and Keith Fahey are named in the central midfield quartet alongside the established axis of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews.
Whether or not McCarthy would have been picked is now irrelevant as the midfielder faces a much tougher challenge ahead after already helping Wigan Athletic secure Premier League survival.
McClean’s inclusion essentially comes at the expense of Everton midfielder Seamus Coleman. The former Sligo Rovers man has had an indifferent season at Goodison Park with injury issues and lack of first-team football making it easier for Trapattoni to omit the lively right-sided player.
Coleman will wait alongside fellow midfielder Paul Green on the standby list and there is a realistic chance that either or both will be utilised as Keith Fahey is still recovering from injury, while Stephen Hunt has only played one full ninety-minute match since returning from a recent hernia operation.
The front five were fairly straightforward for the manager as he named skipper Robbie Keane alongside Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Simon Cox and Jon Walters.
Another nod to loyalty and personal relationships was noted as Trap named Andy Keogh on the standby list. The Millwall man enjoyed a welcome return to form at club level, with ten league goals since February, to make a late surge for automatic inclusion.
But are these the best 23 players available to Trapattoni to represent Ireland at the top table of European football?
Solid arguments can be made for the inclusion of Coleman, Clark, Wes Hoolahan, Stephen Ireland, Marc Wilson and Steven Reid, while several selected players could be queried based on season-long form, lack of competitive football, and a dearth of goals amongst the strikers.
But Trapattoni could confidently counter any such arguments, albeit if his reasons for not including the gifted former Shelbourne playmaker Hoolahan are tenuous at best.
While the manager’s loyalty to both his players and his system may also prove to be his Achilles heal, perhaps it is time that his choices are given the full support of the Irish fans and the football media ahead of the championships.
In fact, this EURO 2012 squad announcement got me thinking back to the last time that Ireland qualified for a major tournament, the 2002 World Cup.
The build-up was ruined by the Saipan incident as the country became divided in debate between Keane and McCarthy, while they should have been enjoying discussing the Cameroon opener and potential starting formations.
Experiencing that tournament as a fan, it was a relief to leave the Emerald Isle and avoid the papers, as it resulted in the travelling Irish fans completely uniting behind the manager and remaining team members with very little talk of Roy Keane in the bars and stadiums of Japan.
And that unity is what is needed again if this Ireland team is to have any chance of impressing at the upcoming tournament.
The early announcement of the squad may prove to be a master stroke as it gives the Irish football fans plenty of time to get used to the players and get all the selection debates out of the way in plenty of time before the tournament starts.
And having witnessed the training facilities that await the Ireland squad in Gdynia and Sopot, there seems little chance of a Saipan scenario taking the spotlight from the team in this tournament.
Ireland have progressed through the group phases of their last three major tournaments, yet the EURO 2012 task may prove the most difficult to date with World Cup and European Championship holders Spain, Italy and Croatia awaiting.
However, Trapattoni’s assembled squad would appear to be his ideal selection with no major players missing through injury.
And with this well-drilled, 23-man squad playing the Trapattoni way, the Italian general is one person who will have total belief that Ireland can come through this difficult group.
Maybe it is time that his loyalty is reciprocated.