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Darkest before the dawn as Trapattoni looks forward to new era

Giovanni Trapattoni hopes that Ireland’s luck will change as they draw a line under a year of mixed emotions in 2012.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

A YEAR THAT started with so much promise for Giovanni Trapattoni and the Republic of Ireland ended on Wednesday night with a feeling which has become all too familiar: defeat.

If last November’s play-off win against Estonia was the high point of the Italian’s reign, much of what has happened since has been laced with bitter disappointment.

Once upon a time it was convenient to point to an unbeaten run which reached 14 matches and spanned 16 months, but there’s little comfort to be found in the cold hard facts now. They speak for themselves.

2012: Played 12. Won 4. Drawn 3. Lost 5. Scored 14. Conceded 20.

No matter which way the numbers are spun, the standout memories — a disastrous showing at Ireland’s first European Championships since 1988 and a record 6-1 home defeat against Germany last month — paint their own picture. And it’s not a pretty one.

Despite Marco Tardelli’s pronouncement this week that 2012 had been a “fantastic year” for Irish football, Trapattoni offered a much more sober judgement yesterday as he reflected on Wednesday night’s 1-0 friendly defeat against Greece.

It was another entry in the L column for a team which desperately needs a morale-boosting W or three but the positives, including a snapshot of a promising future in the assured performance of man of the match Seamus Coleman, were there for those who would cling to them.

“I always prefer the victory,” Trapattoni said, repeating his well-worn maxim, “because after 24 hours the result stays and the show is gone. But I am very impressed by the performance of the team.

We played well. I think for me it was one of the best performances. We started very, very well. Before we conceded the goal, we played aggressively, quickly and with conviction. At this moment we deserved to score.

“I believe we should have had two penalties: in the first minute of the game and in the second half. Obviously this could have changed the result.

“I am 51% happy because of this performance.”

Those penalty shouts — one for what seemed to be a stonewall handball in the Greek box, the other for a shirt pull on Kevin Doyle — summed up a defining feature of 2012, Trapattoni suggested. It was a year that gave lie to the “luck of the Irish” cliche, for when his team needed it, they had none.

“I am not superstitious. Usually I am not,” he said.

In 2012, also yesterday evening with the penalties[...] there is luck. I hope 2012 is finished because also this little bit [of unluckiness] will be finished.

Things could have been different, he said, had Ireland not conceded softly within three minutes of their opening Euro 2012 game against Croatia. But pointing the finger at lady luck is a coward’s refuge, and Trapattoni conceded that “our mistakes, our fouls, me” were at the heart of Ireland’s downfall as much as the lack of breaks which fell their way.

“Sure it was not extremely positive in 2012,” he said, “but we achieved also qualification and we discovered many players in the squad for the future.”

It is these players — Coleman, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, James McClean, Ciaran Clark — that give fans the most reason to be cheerful at the end of a trying year. Asked if any player had done enough against Greece to merit a starting place in the crunch World Cup qualifier against Sweden next March, Trapattoni again pointed to the performance of his young right-full from Donegal.

Coleman for me was man of the match overall — his confidence, his personality, strength, his offensive attitude, without fear. That is important. Very, very important.

“Coleman plays every game for his club and grows in every game. That is important. We need also other players to be playing for the club and growing in performance.”

However, the fear — well-founded, some would say in light of how long it took these players to get their initial chance — is that Trapattoni will revert to his tried and trusted personnel and formation once valuable qualification points are on the line again.

The signs are there. Wes Hoolahan impressed on Wednesday night when brought as a second-half sub to play in the hole behind a lone striker, but asked if he would consider using the Norwich City playmaker in a 4-5-1 in Stockholm, Trap said it was unlikely unless such a move was forced on him by injuries.

“We have two strikers and our system depends on this: two strikers. We need more weight in attack.”

Maybe [we can try 4-5-1], but now, immediately, I can say no. There is no experiment.

“We tried in the past with James McCarthy, but it was not the right position.

“It’s not easy to change to this system when they play in their club with another system. Hoolahan plays in this system. He’s used to this position.”

For McCarthy, who has now started the last six games for Ireland, the signs were more promising.

“I like James McCarthy. He can increase more personality. He’s physically strong and technically is good but he must continue. The weight of responsibility at international level is important also.

“In the conditions, we can decide [if he starts]. Until now, Whelan and Andrews was a good choice.”

The game, unpolished performances of Ireland’s youngsters allowed Trapattoni to speak of a new era yesterday, one which begins with the changing of the seasons and a Dublin friendly against Poland next February. In this hour of darkness, fans will hope that they are moving towards the dawn rather than staring into the abyss of endless night.

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Niall Kelly

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