Amy Eustace reports on an experimental Ireland squad’s 2-0 friendly victory over Poland
It may have been a fairly meaningless, routine friendly, but there was a special UCD interest to be had in Ireland’s tie with Poland last Wednesday. Former UCD AFC target man Conor Sammon earned his first cap in a makeshift Ireland side that much-maligned manager Giovanni Trapattoni will no doubt have used to observe the quality of his fringe players.
Trapattoni, branded a ‘clown’ in the days leading up to the friendly by former Ireland player Ian Harte, handed starts to a number of new faces and shunned squad members for the friendly. Of the starting eleven, only John O’Shea and Glenn Whelan had started a game for the national side in its shambolic Euro 2012 campaign in the visitors’ homeland.
Aston Villa defender Ciarán Clark and Norwich’s Wes Hoolahan capped rare appearances with a first international goal each, but travelling Poles would have been disappointed with the 2-0 scoreline given the chances that their side spurned early on. In the first half, Ireland were sloppy in possession and stand-in keeper David Forde was busy, keeping out Borussia Dortmund danger man Robert Lewandowski on two occasions. Up front, ‘the Sammon of College’ failed to make a real impact, although he did prove effective in aerial duels and ran his socks off throughout. Clark’s goal came with a cool finish on the 35th minute when the Poles failed to clear their lines from a corner, but Ireland were somewhat lucky to go into the break a goal ahead after the Poles’ relative domination.
The rather inexperienced Ireland side – which included 21 year old Robbie Brady and 22 year old Greg Cunningham – grew in confidence as the game went on, looking more assured with the ball and in defence. After his early battles with Lewandowski, Forde was rarely called on, but when needed he was generally calm and composed despite a few poor clearances in the first half.
Trapattoni replaced Shane Long with Hoolahan and brought on another 21 year old, Derby County’s Jeff Hendrick, to replace James McCarthy and swapped Brady for Jonathan Walters. Hoolahan wasn’t long on the pitch before his chance arrived, and he dispatched a visionary ball from Hendrick coolly with just fifteen minutes left on the clock. Against the run of play, the goal took the wind out of Poland’s sails that bit further and they sat back for the remainder of the game.
After the game, Trapattoni was largely positive, describing the win as a confidence boost ahead of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden next month and noting that he has ‘three or four more options in the squad’ as a result. In typical Trap fashion, however, he didn’t leave without taking a swipe at two of the squad’s absentees; Reading’s Stephen Kelly and Everton’s Darron Gibson. The Italian suggested that their commitment was to be questioned – a recurring theme in Trap’s temperamental tiffs with his players, perhaps a scar from the Stephen Ireland era – a suggestion to which Kelly responded to in no uncertain terms with a statement that said, among other things: “I cannot and will not tolerate attempts to defame my commitment and loyalty to Ireland.” Ouch.
The FAI issued the stern recommendation that Trapattoni keep his spats out of his press conferences, whether or not the Italian listens is a different matter entirely, seeing as he apparently hasn’t learned his lesson from similar disputes with James McCarthy and James McClean in previous years.
In any case, his squad selection for the Sweden encounter will no doubt be subject to an extra dose of scrutiny.