AND SO TO the midfielders. Come Monday afternoon, this is the area of Trapattoni’s squad which looks likely to be the major talking point. We expect him to pick eight players but there are at least 10 strong candidates, and 10 into eight simply does not go.
Who’s going to make it? Who’s going to miss out? And, most interestingly, who’s the experienced squaddie that may have to withdraw according to Trap’s hints last week?
One of the few ever-presents in Ireland’s qualifying campaign, Whelan has made the central midfield role his own under Trapattoni and looks likely to be one of the first names on the Italian’s team-sheet.
The 28-year-old has been a key man for Stoke this season as well, though he has been worked to the bone as result. Whelan’s season started back at the end of July in Stoke’s first Europa League game against Hadjuk Split and he has racked up 40 club appearances so far, with two more likely to follow.
“System” is one of Trap’s favourite buzzwords and it’s clear that he trusts Whelan as a vital cog at the the heart of matters. There’s no reason why he won’t start every game that he’s available for.
The Whelan-Andrews double act in central midfield is now so firmly ingrained in our minds that it seems as though Ireland have always played that way. But prior to the away game against Macedonia last June, Andrews was very much on the team’s periphery, trying to bully his way past Darron Gibson, Paul Green and Keith Fahey.
The 31-year-old seized his chance in Skopje and started the six remaining games of campaign after that, grabbing the vital opening goal in the first leg of the play-off against Estonia.
Andrews has every reason to be pleased with his club form this season. He started the season with Ipswich in the Championship, but by Christmas, he had nine goals from midfield and it wasn’t long before Uncle Roy Hodgson came calling to bring him back to the Premier League with West Brom.
He continued to impress on his return to the top flight and nailed down a place in the first team at the Hawthorns. More dynamic than some Irish fans give him credit for, Andrews looks certain to partner Whelan in midfield this summer.
Another man who already has his seat booked on the plane to Poland, McGeady is one of the few players to feature in every game of the qualifying campaign.
The winger has had to field his fair share of criticism over the years with many fans frustrated by his inconsistency, but the fact remains that he is one of the few creative sparks that Trapattoni has fielded on a regular basis.
McGeady hasn’t had the best run of luck this season. An ankle injury ruled him out of the beginning of the Russian Championship with Spartak Moscow, and then he struggled to keep on manager Valary Karpin’s good side after the winter break.
His performance in the first leg against Estonia when he created two goals is a reminder of how valuable he can be on his day. He’ll count himself very unlucky if he doesn’t start against Croatia.
One of the squad’s old hands when it comes to major tournaments, Duff brings an experienced touch to the Irish midfield.
If it feels like the winger has been around forever, it’s because he has. First capped just weeks after his 19th birthday in March 1998, 33-year-old Duffer has made 95 appearances in a career of excellent international service.
He still has the ability to give defences a bit of a headache as he showed with six goals for Fulham this season. Sure to travel and very likely to start the tournament as one of the first-choice wide men in Trap’s 4-4-2.
The last few months can’t have been pleasant for Stephen Hunt, twiddling his thumbs on the sideline, hoping and praying that his hernia injury would clear up in time for him to stake his Euros claim.
After undergoing surgery, he made a brief cameo last weekend and played the final 18 minutes of Wolves’ 4-4 draw away to Swansea. That aside, the Waterford winger has been decidedly short of game time lately with just 451 minutes of club football to his name since the turn of the year.
Hunt has long been Trapattoni’s third-choice winger behind Duff and McGeady and looks an obvious candidate for the 23-man squad. But will he slip down the pecking order if James McClean is sitting next to him on the plane?
Gibson is a disciplined, hard-working midfielder in the mould of Whelan and Andrews and so appears to be a natural candidate as a deputy central midfielder.
Trapattoni very vocally encouraged the 24-year-old to move away from Old Trafford to get some game time and he did just that, switching to Everton in the January transfer window. Since the move, he has put himself back in the shop window with a series of commanding displays.
His last competitive cap came in the home win against Macedonia last March but he didn’t even make it as far as the bench for the remainder of the qualifying campaign, though he did play in the summer friendly against Croatia.
Plenty of fans feel that he’s “a Trap kind of player” and will be a dead cert for the 23-man squad, but Gibson probably won’t sleep too easy between now and Monday afternoon.
Fahey is another of the squad’s fringe men who won’t know what type of summer lies in store until the phone rings on Sunday evening or Monday morning.
He was a familiar face throughout qualifying, starting the drawn game against Slovakia in Zilina and making seven appearances from the bench, including in the opening game against Armenia where he scored the only goal in Ireland’s 1-0 win.
His versatility will work in his favour as he can alternate between a number of the midfield roles. He’s been out of the spotlight slightly since Birmingham’s relegation to the Championship, but he’s played 34 league games this season to help the Blues back to the play-offs.
Fahey has missed the last few weeks with a groin injury but manager Chris Hughton has assured Trapattoni that the Dubliner will be ready for Poland if called.
Green seemed like the forgotten man of Irish football when he was recalled by Trapattoni for February’s friendly against the Czech Republic and won his 10th international cap.
But back at the start of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, Green was one of the Italian’s first-choice central midfielders and started the first four games of the campaign.
He was sidelined with a knee injury for a large chunk of 2011 before he returned to Championship football with Derby County, largely under the radar.
First capped against Paraguay in May 2010, Green has won all of his caps under Trapattoni. Murmurs from within the camp at the time of the Czech game suggested that he was in pole position to make the 23, but his selection would still be seen as a surprise by most.
Few Irish fans would argue if James McCarthy is named in Trap’s 23, but there is a foreboding feeling that the youngster might be the one to miss out in a packed midfield roster.
Time and again this season, the 21-year-old has been Wigan’s most assured player, controlling games from his role in central midfield.
There were a few question marks about his defensive abilities but recent comments by Trap’s right-hand man Marco Tardelli indicate that the Irish camp have no such worries about McCarthy’s ability to adapt.
For the risk-averse Trapattoni, it would be a big leap to bring a youngster with just three international caps to a major tournament. McCarthy’s Premier League performances have been worthy of a place, but will Trap see it as too much too young?
On the plane or off, James McClean is going to be the man most people are talking about come decision time on Monday.
Twelve months ago, the Derry youngster was light years away from an international cap, never mind a place in the Ireland squad for Euro 2012. Even when his consistently excellent performances for Derry City caught the eye of Sunderland’s scouts and he was whisked off to Wearside, it looked like he was in for a gradual apprenticeship rather than a meteoric rise to become one of the Premier League’s brightest young stars.
Concerns that his initial success may just be a flash in the plan were rightly skeptical but McClean has shown since then that he’s no one-hit wonder, scoring six goals and creating many more chances.
He’s one of the most exciting players in the discussion and bound to be a fan favourite if selected. Trap hinted last week that McClean is “90-99%” sure to go, but until Monday, nobody will know for sure.
Outside of the 10 above, Seamus Coleman perhaps has the best chance of sneaking in under the radar. The former Sligo Rovers man has developed nicely under David Moyes at Everton this season but he hasn’t been capped since the Italy friendly last summer and it’s hard to see him fighting his way into a midfield that is already congested.
Liam Lawrence started the first three games of qualifying, but his last competitive cap came in the 3-2 home defeat against Russia where he was the first man hauled off before Ireland sparked into a mini-revival. Didn’t make the extended squad for the friendly against the Czechs which seemed to signal the death knell for his international career under Trap.
Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington have both turned heads with their performances for Norwich this season, but Trapattoni has indicated time and again that they won’t be heading to Poland.
That leaves Stephen Ireland who has said in a number of recent interviews that he’s ready to make his return to the international fold. We may see the Aston Villa midfielder on the Road to Rio but certainly not before then.