Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
# Analysis
Opinion: There was one Trapattoni-esque decision in Noel King’s Ireland squad selection
The absence of Crystal Palace’s Damien Delaney caught many by surprise yesterday.

BY AND LARGE, most fans and pundits will be happy with Noel King’s first Ireland squad selection yesterday, with what many people feel is the welcome return of Andy Reid, Darron Gibson and others.

Nevertheless, there was one slightly bizarre decision that was reminiscent of the types of baffling calls that Giovanni Trapattoni arguably made on a regular basis as Ireland manager — the omission of Crystal Palace’s Damien Delaney.

Granted, the player is currently out injured, but he is due back early October, which would give him plenty of time to prepare for the Germany and Kazakhstan matches. So when you consider that Richard Dunne and John O’Shea are being accommodated despite their one-game suspensions, it seems difficult to ascertain why Delaney has been ignored.

One could speculate that King is concerned that Delaney won’t be 100% match fit in time for the games. Nevertheless, if that is the case, why was Sean St Ledger — who has been out of action for much longer than his central-defensive counterpart — included?

The 32-year-old centre-back played every minute of Palace’s Premier League campaign until his injury and is widely regarded as the best defender at the club. Meanwhile, individuals who have been preferred to him such as Paul McShane and Ciaran Clark have received little or no game time with their sides, while John O’Shea hasn’t exactly thrived with Sunderland, who Palace recently beat 3-1. Meanwhile, other mooted centre-back options for the Germany game, such as Marc Wilson and Joey O’Brien, are desperately short of playing experience in the position for big games.

And while it’s difficult to deny that Dunne and O’Shea are ahead of Delaney on merit, others will feel fortunate to be picked in the squad in his stead. St Ledger, for instance, has played just once for Leicester in the league all season owing to injury, and marked this sole appearance with an own goal. Picking him (or indeed McShane) ahead of Delaney, when the latter is playing at a higher level on a weekly basis, had shades of Trap’s tendency to show misplaced loyalty to certain players.

Granted, Delaney is not the saviour of Irish football. Moreover, it is similarly true that certain players — Andy Reid, Wes Hoolahan and Stephen Ireland among them — are sometimes over-hyped due to the team’s tendency to falter in their absence — however, there still appears to be no legitimate excuse for a manager not picking his best players, especially for a country whose resources are limited enough as it is.

It seems a phenomenon that is particularly unique to soccer in this country and one that is tolerated, if not accepted. Imagine, by contrast, the furore that would ensue if Jonny Sexton or Paul O’Connell were left out of the rugby squad for no good reason. Yet when some of the football team’s best players such as Seamus Coleman, Darron Gibson and James McCarthy were, at various points, ignored by Trap, there were some complaints but they were hardly voluminous.

The Delaney snub may seem a minor issue, especially in comparison with some of the aforementioned decisions made by Trap. Nonetheless, it is exacerbated by the fact that Dunne and O’Shea are suspended for the Germany game and as a result, it conceivably further reduces the team’s options.

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Imagine, therefore, the worst-case scenario. Imagine Paul McShane is forced to play alongside Ciaran Clark against Germany. It’s not altogether fanciful to foresee the former conceding a penalty or being at fault for a costly goal (as was the case in the famous World Cup playoff against France) in the last-minute against the Germans that denies the Irish side a draw or worse, a famous win. Such a result could ultimately have a considerable impact on the team’s seeding for future tournaments, thus decreasing their chances of qualifying for the Euros and making the job less attractive for any prospective new managers.

So it is such decisions as picking McShane over Delaney that the future of Irish football could ultimately rest to an extent. Consequently, despite all the encouraging signs from yesterday’s squad announcement, there appear to be one or two bad habits left over from the previous regime.

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