Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Republic look to banish any thought of South Africa

Brazil and the Republic of Ireland went through their paces at Arsenal's salubrious Bell Lane complex yesterday with one team preparing for a World Cup and the other trying to forget the chain of events which has prevented them from sharing in that excitement.

The presence of Fabio Capello's England stars in such close proximity has consigned the Republic's players towards the direction of the academy pitches, with the TV crews filming Giovanni Trapattoni's training session ahead of tonight's friendly with Brazil warned that if they used their perch to search for a glimpse of John Terry and co, immediate ejection would be the punishment.

Sure, in the aftermath of Thierry Henry's handball, the Irish team were box office but now, in the general scheme of things, they are a sideshow, waiting for Jim Bowen to emerge to present a 'Bendy Bully' while football royalty strides towards the speedboat.

There is no South African odyssey to look forward to and, by extension, no real sense of anticipation about a game that, for the Republic, is preparation for competitive fixtures that haven't even been organised yet. Even if the opposition are Brazil. A third clash in six years has reduced the novelty and, if anything, the Emirates Stadium dalliance with a side tipped for success this summer merely serves to intensify the pain of being absent.

Predictably, Trapattoni was asked about Capello's troubled dressing room in the preliminaries and, while there was little discussion of the merits of Kaka, Robinho and the rest, he will doubtless be asked about their chances of World Cup success in the aftermath. And then the show will go on, with Republic left behind. Reality bites hard.

Sometimes, you wonder if Trapattoni and his staff would prefer to wake up in August when it's all over, and the start of the Euro 2012 qualifiers is imminent. He has already made it clear that experimentation will be minimal enough between now and then, save for inviting a few peripherals to a May training camp — if the FAI can afford the expense.

Nevertheless, it would be churlish to ignore that a key feature of the 70-year-old's reign has been an ability to take something from a game which may appear meaningless to others. Liam Lawrence, Leon Best and Sean St Ledger can testify to that.

James McCarthy is the name on everybody's lips, and Il Capo hinted that he will be involved in the latter stages if he proves he has shaken off an ankle problem.

The Wigan teenager offers management an opportunity to change their system with Trap keen to find out if McCarthy has the ability to function as a roving old fashioned number ten operating behind a lone striker.

“I have seen it before, when there is great potential there is expectation. All the reporters and the fans have that expectation. James is clever, he plays good football and he is creative and now you have to wait to see how he develops. How the personality develops.”

The fans would have preferred something else to look forward to in the summer, but that refrain is increasingly becoming a parochial issue. The excitement generated by a new face is the only way to forget.

Meanwhile, Robbie Keane has returned to the Republic squad.

The on-loan Celtic striker was initially ruled out with a knee injury.

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