Giovanni Trapattoni may have chosen the week prior to the Republic of Ireland’s first major tournament in a decade as the moment to deliver a belated slither of unpredictability to the proceedings of his team’s approach. Capriciousness is far from a characteristic that defines Trapattoni and his stringency in formation and team selection, on the whole over the four years of his tenure, only serves to exemplify that. In that time, the former Juventus and Inter Milan manager has handed debut international caps to 25 players in total. Only six of those debutants have come since the turn of 2011, a direct result of Trapattoni’s contentedness with formation and the players entrusted with being drilled to execute its rigours to full effect. The fact that Ireland line out against Croatia in Gdansk on Sunday evening, a first European Championship appearance in 24 years is, as Trapattoni has been only too willing to testify, evidence in his method and loyalty.
That once watertight retort to questions over selection, that the Italian is loyal to the players and system that has served him so well, has in the immediate build-up to Ireland’s Euro 2012 opener been the subject of doubt, from Trapattoni himself. Kevin Foley has spoken of “betrayal” after being jettisoned from the initial 23 man squad in favour of the more pertinently versatile Paul McShane. The ruthlessness and unsentimentally associated with a manager with such a winning pedigree had never reared its head on such a personal or humane level, until now. Pragmatism in tactical approach and conservative selection was the norm, so perhaps it should not come as the shock it has. For Trapattoni’s predecessor Steve Staunton, unpredictability was often the order of the day and the World Cup campaign he oversaw.
The Dundalk native cast his net far and wide in search of additions to his Republic of Ireland set up. The turmoil of the Staunton era and the turgid performances it provoked, most notably the 5-2 reverse against Cyprus in Nicosia, means even in considered hindsight, the time is solely ridiculed. On selection, the theory of a stopped clock being right twice in a day springs to mind, no more so than in relation to the Republic of Ireland’s United States tour in the summer of 2007.
Nine uncapped players were named in an initial 23 man panel to face Ecuador and Bolivia, both of whom were preparing for their Copa America campaign later that summer. For Ireland, the nine uncapped players were filling the voids vacated by Staunton electing to leave out a number of experienced caps. Shay Given, Stephen Carr, Andy O’Brien, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Stephen Reid, Andy Reid, Steve Finnan and Robbie Keane were all omitted, a few due to injury but most deliberately. Subsequent withdrawals by John O’Shea, set to captain Ireland for the first time, Liam Miller and Stephen Ireland further diminished the experience and the notoriety of the panel.
Thirteen players would go on to win their first international caps in the Giants Stadium in New York and the Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, the former the scene of one of the nation’s greatest sporting triumphs, when Ray Houghton put the goal in the Italian’s net thirteen years earlier, embarrassing Gianluca Pagliuca in the process.
In the opener in front of a respectable crowd of ex pats, ‘Irish’ cousins and curious observers of English football, Ecuador took a 13th minute lead courtesy of Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez. The Irish had started the brighter with the then Reading duo Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle central to forays into the Ecuador half. Hunt had goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga scampering to tip his sixth minute free kick over before Doyle hit the post shortly afterwards.
Benitez goal though stopped Ireland in their tracks and highlighted the unfamiliarity amongst the Irish back five. Colin Doyle, Stephen O’Halloran, Alan Bennett and Alex Bruce were all making their international debuts alongside Stephen Kelly, a rookie at 24 but with vast experience in comparison. It was Bennett who was caught lacking concentration and lineage with his colleagues, allowing the attacker to break a sloppy offside attempt and score. Like Kevin Doyle and Shane Long, Bennett was the beneficiary of Steve Coppell’s scouting of the League of Ireland, the trio all brought to Reading from Cork City by Coppell between 2005 and 2007.
The four novices making the case for the defence were joined in making their first senior appearances for their country by Daryl Murphy, Andy Keogh and Darren Potter. The latter two were able to link up to the squad by virtue of Wolves being eliminated from the Championship play offs at the semi-final stage by West Bromwich Albion. Paul McShane, a fixture in Tony Mowbray’s side that would go onto to miss out on promotion to Derby County, was forced to withdraw.
Kevin Doyle continued to impress in the infancy of his international career and scored just his third international goal before half time. Darren Potter, who impressed in a central midfield role, picked out Waterford’s Daryl Murphy who crossed for Wexford born Doyle to head past Elizaga. Those watching at home, the match was broadcast on RTE television, had a rare reason to cheer.
In the second period, a flurry of substitutions led to the customary disruption of the game’s rhythm. Four further first caps came to fruition, the most notable of which was handed to Joseph Lapira. New York born Lapira qualified for Ireland through his mother Bridie and his selection was undoubtedly the most left field call-up in the modern era of the Irish game. There was nothing spectacular about his qualification for representing Ireland; this was after all a country that used the introduction of the Grandparent rule by FIFA to a greater effect than most. Lapira was a student at the Notre Dame University and was an amateur player. His five minute cameo at the games end meant that he had become the first amateur to represent the Republic of Ireland since 1964. Bohemians defender Willie Browne had been the last over four decades previously.
Even for a nation accustomed to the pillaging of the Irish diaspora abroad, Lapira’s selection was an unusual move by Staunton. That, coupled with attempts to bring FC Toronto’s Ronnie O’Brien, an Irish youth international once of Middlesbrough and Juventus, into the fold were merely moments of opportunity to assess the local talent. Neither would have been solutions in the long or short term to Ireland’s many woes. Nor would they have captured the imaginations of the local public, or those back home, with interest understandably low in the midst of the team’s current plight and the paucity of stellar names in action.
In terms of achieving the goals of the end of season get-together, Steve Staunton uncovered no standout jewels, aside perhaps from impressive performances from relative novices Stephen Hunt, Shane Long and Kevin Doyle. Steve Staunton was soon to be stripped of his crown regardless. Their integration into the set up would go on to stand the next manager is fine stead ahead of the qualification battles that he would lead his charges into. For Staunton, his broken clock struck the right time on those rare occasions, but it proved too unreliable to sustain. His time was running out. This trip was an expensive and desperate last throw of the dice.
The Squad – While some of Staunton’s panel have gone onto compete in Europa League finals, Wembley showdowns as well as qualify for Euro 2012, others have suffered a startling descent, landing in some of football’s forgotten outposts, from Limerick to Nybergsund, Gateshead to Tooting and Mitcham.
Colin Doyle – Doyle won his first and to date only cap against Ecuador in the Giants Stadium. Reserve call ups too have been sporadic, virtually a non-occurrence under Giovanni Trapattoni. The man who denied him a clean sheet in that match, Cristian Benitez, went on to become Doyle’s teammate at Birmingham City in a loan spell at St. Andrews in the 2009/10 season. Out of contract at Birmingham, Doyle’s future could depend on a new manager at the club.
Stephen Kelly – One of only three starters against Ecuador to travel to Poland as part of Ireland’s Euro 2012, Kelly has established himself as a Premier League regular twice under Martin Jol, first at Tottenham Hotspur and latterly at Fulham. While never considered a regular at international level, the Dubliner is a constant in Giovanni Trapattoni’s selections, a trusty deputy in all four positions across the back four.
Alex Bruce – One of the seven debutants in starting in New York, Alex Bruce’s international allegiances have always proved to be a bone of contention. Initially picked by Roy Millar for Northern Ireland’s Under 21 side, Bruce, son of Manchester United’s Steve, elected to play for the Republic. Under 21 caps preceded his senior debut in 2007 but they were to prove as far as Bruce’s Republic of Ireland ties were to go. Having won his two caps in friendlies, it was confirmed last year that Bruce had switched allegiance back to the North. Since then though, the manager has changed and no call has been forthcoming. Like his Dad, free agent Alex is in international exile.
Alan Bennett – Bennett was 25 years old by the time he was picked by Premier League Reading from League of Ireland side Cork City. His time at the Madjeski Stadium was to prove unsuccessful and his inclusion on the US Tour was his only involvement in senior international football. Since then, the centre half has carved out a career in the lower leagues, winning promotion from League Two twice in three years, with Brentford in 2009 and Wycombe in 2011. Last season, he captained Cheltenham Town to the playoff final, losing to Crewe at Wembley.
Stephen O’Halloran – Cobh has proved somewhat of a hotbed for talent in the past, Roy Keane and Stephen Ireland to name but a few natives that made indelible marks on the Ireland team for altogether different reasons. Nineteen year old Aston Villa reserve defender O’Halloran had made no such impact at club level before being catapulted into Steve Staunton’s senior side. He never appeared for Villa before successive cruciate ligament injuries struck him down during a series of short loan moves. O’Halloran had a short spell at Carlisle United last season.
Andy Keogh – Undoubtedly a favourite of Trapattoni, Keogh has enjoyed a lengthy spell in and around the senior Ireland team since the Italian’s arrival, benefitting in large part to scoring the first goal of the manager’s reign, in a friendly draw against Serbia in Croke Park. Despite suffering from a lack of playing time at parent club Wolves during that time, Keogh has impressed in spurts on loan at Cardiff City, Leeds United, Bristol City and since joining Millwall permanently in January. Narrowly slipped out of contention for a Euro 2012 squad place.
Darren Potter – The only member of the squad to have Champions League experience under his belt in an, albeit brief, appearance against Bayer Leverkusen in 2005, en route to Liverpool’s famous Istanbul success. Potter qualified for the Republic through his mother, despite being born and raised in Liverpool. An abrasive, marmite-esque character, Potter wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. He was called up to Giovanni Trapattoni’s initial selection of 40 players that participated at his first training camp in Portugal, but was cast aside and not recalled since. Alongside MK Dons teammate Stephen Gleeson, Potter was recently named in the League One ‘Team of the Season’.
Kevin Kilbane – The sole player in the squad with anything resembling vast experience. The versatile Kilbane had won 78 caps prior to this trip and was far and away the most experienced player. Stephen Kelly had the next highest number of caps. He was yet to reach ten. Given a central role in this team, it was his willingness to make himself available for trips like this that saw him, a modestly talented player at best, easily surpass 100 caps.
Stephen Hunt – At thirty years old, it is easy for some to think that Stephen Hunt has been around the international scene longer than five years. However, the Waterford winger won only his third and fourth caps in New York and Massachusetts having come to prominence late during Reading’s promotion to the Premier League. A fixture in virtually every Ireland squad since, availability permitting, Hunt’s place at Euro 2012 seemed certain, despite late doubts due to poor fitness, form and the emergence of James McClean. Hunt is one of the more eccentric but eminently likeable presences to represent Ireland in the recent past.
Kevin Doyle – Arguably the biggest positive to come from the Steve Staunton era, the introduction of Kevin Doyle has provided Ireland with a forward partnership dovetailed better than any since Niall Quinn retired from international football. He linked with Robbie Keane to great effect in Ibaraki ten years ago and under Staunton and then Trapattoni, Doyle has done so to, if not in such spectacular fashion. Brought from Cork City to Reading for £78,000, Doyle moved to Wolves four years later for £6.9 million. He has experienced a turgid time of it at club and international level of late but the European Championships may facilitate a spectacular redemption.
Daryl Murphy – Murphy was one of the clutch to win his first cap against Ecuador and despite winning seven more caps under both Staunton and his successor, Murphy has appeared to have fallen from the international picture and subsequently from the consciousness of most. Unwanted by Celtic, the forward has just completed a hit and miss loan spell at Ipswich Town. That is the story of the former Sunderland man’s career in professional football, hit and miss.
Joe O’Cearuill – Called up as replacement for John O’Shea but yet to appear for Arsenal’s first team, young centre back O’Cearuill was an Irish youth international considered by many to have a good chance of carving out a career at a reasonable level. After some brief spells in the lower divisions, O’Cearuill found himself back in the League of Ireland with St. Patricks Athletic before a further spell around the leagues of English football. O’Cearuill was last seen lining out for Tooting and Mitcham in the Isthmian League.
Joe Gamble – Then starring domestically and in Europe for Cork City, Gamble was called up as a replacement for Liam Miller following his withdrawal for family reasons. In replacing Andy Keogh for the final 21 minutes in the Giants Stadium, Gamble became the first Irish based player to represent Ireland in a full international fixture since Glen Crowe against Greece in 2002. Gamble subsequently went on to play for Hartlepool United in the Football League but is now on the books of Limerick FC in Ireland’s second tier.
Stephen Gleeson – Eighteen year old midfielder Gleeson had just spent half a season on loan at Stockport County in League Two, from parent club Wolves managed by former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy, when he made his debut against the Ecuadorians. The other members of the Wolves contingent Potter and Keogh made Gleeson’s integration into the squad a smooth one. Alongside Potter, he was recently named in the League One Team of the Season. At just 23 and vice-captain of a MK Dons team notably on the up, Gleeson hopes to one day return to senior international football.
Anthony Stokes – Depending on who you talk too, Glasgow Celtic striker Stokes failure to bother the ranks of forwards at Giovanni Trapattoni’s disposal is down to being unfancied by the Italian or due to being banished on the back of constant indiscretions. His goalscoring exploits at Parkhead suggest the talent is there to offer Ireland something tangible in the long term but an international recall under the current regime is unlikely, with strikers all of a sudden aplenty.
Shane Long – A first international goal against Bolivia ensured the Reading striker shone brighter than most when the bones of this unorthodox get-together were picked. A thirty minute cameo in the first game meant this trip proved a worthy workout for the youngster from Tipperary. He has since gone on to cement his place as one of Ireland’s most prominent attackers, commanding big fees in the process. As a youngster, Long was strikingly proficient at most sports and played hurling for his county at minor level, a relatively high profile achievement in Ireland.
Joseph Lapira – Never seen before and never seen again, the story of Joseph Patrick Lapira’s brief international career. He will forever remember representing the Republic of Ireland at full international level, while still an amateur and a student. From a fans perspective, Lapira’s name will forever be immortalised by being the answer to pub quiz puzzlers. That was all he was the answer too. Now playing in the Norwegian lower leagues with Nybergsund, the attacker is back where he started, in absolute obscurity.
Subs Not Used
Nicky Colgan – A perennial back up goalkeeper during the reigns of McCarthy, Kerr and Staunton, Colgan still managed to collate nine international caps for the Republic. The Dubliner was promoted to third choice keeper in the panel when Alan Kelly Jnr retired in 2002. With one appearance for his first professional club Chelsea under his belt, Colgan went on to have a career that redefined nomadic. Now, he combines a coaching role at Huddersfield with being emergency back up to the club’s first choice stoppers.
Wayne Henderson – His substitute appearance in the second match of Ireland’s US Tour would prove to be Henderson’s last match for his country. The return of Shay Given and Dean Kiely’s decision to come out to retirement may have pushed him out of contention but he retired in 2009 to a chronic spine injury which had begun to rear its head by 2007. His appearances for Ireland will likely be remembered by the chaotic circumstances in which he conceded to San Marino in the embarrassing 2-1 victory a year earlier. His nephew, West Ham’s Stephen, is a recent call up to the senior set up.
Peter Murphy – A stalwart of what was then six years at Carlisle United, Murphy, like Henderson, made his debut against Bolivia in the second and final match of the tour. Playing alongside Bennett at centre half, Murphy impressed but with the strength in depth available when a more recognisable panel could be picked from, this turned out to be his lone cap. The Dublin born defender’s chances of a recall have always suffered from Giovanni Trapattoni’s refusal to consider players playing below Championship standard.
Alan O’Brien – On the fringes of the Newcastle United first team under Glenn Roeder, O’Brien had previously been included in squads under Steve Staunton. The winger won his first cap in the heavy friendly defeat to the Netherlands in the Autumn of 2006 and was a late substitute as Ireland went down to Germany in the opening Euro 2008 qualifier in Stuttgart. After America, no further international caps were forthcoming for the tricky winger who after spells with Hibernian and Swindon Town, wound up at back in the North East last season at Gateshead.