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Questions to be answered from Ireland's run-out in Cardiff

Giovanni Trapattoni will run the rule over his side ahead of next month’s crunch qualifiers.

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni faces the press yesterday.
Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni faces the press yesterday.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

TONIGHT’S FRIENDLY IN Cardiff comes at an awkward time with the Irish squad’s Premier League representatives still in pre-season mode and limbering up for another nine months of domestic action while our Championship contingent are already a couple of weeks into their 2013/14 campaign.

Despite the poor timing, there are still some significant questions to be answered from tonight’s encounter ahead of next month’s pivotal World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria.

Does snubbing James McClean’s for tonight’s friendly hurt his long-term international prospects?

Giovanni Trapattoni dropped something of a bombshell by selecting Hull’s Robbie Brady instead of McClean to start against Wales prompting the question has the former Derry City winger made a huge mistake in going down a division?

The former Sunderland winger’s turbulent club career took another twist recently with the announcement of his transfer to Championship side Wigan Athletic.

On the plus side, McClean showed new-found maturity in instigating the move away from the Stadium of Light in search of regular first-team football and incurring a significant drop in wages to secure his reassignment to the Championship.

Even though Owen Coyle looks more than capable of guiding Wigan back to the Premier League, the move appears something of a gamble on McClean’s part; such is the deficiency in standard between the two divisions.

The Derry native’s poor final delivery has frustrated Giovanni Trapattoni and Irish supporters in recent internationals (not to mention his off-field antics and some ill-advised tweets) so playing week-in, week-out for Wigan will certainly benefit McClean’s fitness and match sharpness.

Yet a nagging feeling persists that a young player like McClean should be moving on — similar to his new team-mate James McCarthy — and not down a division to reignite his international career. Facing the likes of Barnsley, Doncaster and Bournemouth instead of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal is not where Giovanni Trapattoni wants McClean to be, especially heading into a World Cup year.

Time will tell, but if Robbie Brady produces an eye-catching display against the Welsh later this evening then James McClean could find himself on the bench for the foreseeable future.

Will we learn anything new from a friendly international scheduled so close to the start of the new domestic season?

The honest answer is that is highly unlikely anything significant will come out of tonight’s night’s friendly other than Giovanni Trapattoni seeing how a couple of fringe players such as Hoolahan, Clark and Brady are shaping up ahead of September’s double-header.

The Premier League is only three days away whilst the Championship and League’s One and Two kicked off on 3 August meaning the majority of the Irish squad are either in the closing stages of their pre-season training or just a couple of weeks into the slog of another elongated campaign.

There appears to be less enthusiasm for August friendlies with each passing year as players and supporters focus on domestic rather than international issues at this late stage of the summer. The opposite side of the argument is that Trapattoni gets a chance to bring his squad together a full month before facing into two crucial World Cup qualifiers.

In fact, the most significant work done by the Irish management and playing staff may have already been conducted earlier in the week behind closed doors and on the training pitch as part of the build-up to the Swedish game on 6 September.

Unless a notoriously conservative Trapattoni decides to take the opportunity to experiment with a new formation and temporarily move away from his rigid 4-4-2 system then in all probability Wednesday night’s friendly will tell us nothing we don’t already know.

At the very least, a decent 90-minute display including a clean sheet and a couple of goals at the other end of the pitch would serve as the perfect tonic ahead of more important games looming on the horizon.

Ciaran Clark and Stephen Henderson. Pic: INPHO/Donall Farmer

How significant is Clark’s selection to play alongside John O’Shea in the back four?

One important selection headache that faced Trapattoni ahead of tonight’s Cardiff friendly was who to select as John O’Shea’s defensive partner in the heart of Ireland’s back four.

Sean St Ledger’s withdrawal from the squad following a training ground injury left the door slightly ajar for Darren O’Dea or Ciaran Clark to stake a claim for a starting berth in next month’s showdown with Sweden at the Aviva. Richard Dunne is another — albeit not involved in tonight’s game — well on the road to recovery at QPR following a lengthy lay-off and hoping to impress Trapattoni in the coming weeks.

But in the meantime, Trap has selected Ciaran Clark to start against the Welsh.

It is a significant game for Clark as the early prognosis suggests St Ledger’s injury will prevent the Leicester defender from taking the field in Dublin on 6 September.

Trapattoni is looking to the future with the inclusion of the Aston Villa centre back and the 24-year old certainly deserves the opportunity having forced his way into the Villa starting line-up and can only benefit from playing alongside the more experienced O’Shea. All of a sudden, tonight’s game becomes a hugely important fixture in Clark’s burgeoning international career where an assured display could cement his place against the Swedes.

Follow Ger McCarthy on Twitter: @germccarthy74

Join TheScore.ie’s Premier League Fantasy Football League using this code: 800052-191374; http://fantasy.premierleague.com

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Ger McCarthy

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