Friday, October 31, 2008

Whelan may consider move to save international career

Stoke manager Tony Pulis will not loan out any more of his players before the transfer window opens in January.

Pulis knows there is plenty of interest in several of his personnel and, with defender Lewis Buxton loaned to Sheffield Wednesday last week, there has been speculation over the future of midfielder Glenn Whelan in particular.

Whelan has not featured in the Barclays Premier League since Stoke's opening-day defeat at Bolton but Pulis said: "Glenn is going nowhere and neither is anyone else who is in our first-team squad."

He added: "Glenn has been to see me and I've told him his chance will come around again. It will then be up to him to take that chance.

"We are going to need all the players at some stage and some of them will have to be patient.

"Having a big squad and players who are unhappy at not playing is a new experience for me, but one that I was always going to come up against.

"I can see both sides of the coin because I was a player myself many moons ago. No-one was more unhappy than me if I was ever left out."

When questioned over a possible move away from Stoke City Whelan said:

“If I don’t get back in the Stoke team,” he says, “I don’t think I will have a chance in the international team because the Ireland manager will be looking for match-fit players.

“There’s a big gap now and if I don’t play a lot of games between now and the next international in February, then that will affect me.”

Not that he is pitching for a move in the January transfer window, he insists, merely setting himself a personal target to regain that coveted club spot sooner rather than later.

“Ask any player and they will tell you they want to play every game they possibly can,” said Whelan. “It hasn’t happened for me, but I’ve been working hard in training and hopefully I can impress the manager. At the end of the day he can only pick 11 now that we have a bigger and better squad.

“I think I’m more than capable of getting back into the team and I just have to make sure that when February comes around I’m back playing here. It’s going to be tough, but I think I’m capable.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cillian Sheridan being groomed for major role

Cillian Sheridan lacks nothing in terms of the physical attributes that could give him a fighting chance of carving out a fine Celtic career.

Experience is the only thing missing from his locker, although plenty would have been banked from a cameo performance against Manchester United this week in the Champions League.

Clearly, the young Irishman is being groomed for a major role by Gordon Strachan, given the public votes of confidence he has received.

As is the way with most young players with something that bit special, Sheridan is fuelled by a major desire to make it as a top-level striker.

He trusts his manager in the way he is handling his development, which Strachan says is about being careful not to push him too soon as there have been some problems with growing pains as he fills out his tall frame.

But there is always that straining on the leash, a trait many undaunted youngsters on the periphery of first-team life at the Old Firm have, and Sheridan wants to make his mark.

The current striking crisis that has hit Strachan, just as Celtic enter a hectic run of games in three competitions, may well see the door being opened for the 19-year-old, who has impressed everyone at the club with his attitude to work, and his understanding of what he has to put in to ensure his natural talent can be fulfilled.

Reflecting on events, he smiled: "I am really enjoying the step-up, and getting on up at Inverness last weekend and then again at Old Trafford was a fantastic experience for me.

"I'm still a young player and I have a lot to learn, but to be gaining that kind of experience against teams like Manchester United is great.

"Being involved in the first- team picture with so many top players here is really helping my game."

He added: "The training, the experience of being in the squads, the advice from the coaches and manager, it's all crucial and I try to learn as much as I can every day, and also when we are away like during this week down in Manchester.

"Like everyone, you want to play. I want to play for Celtic and score goals for the club, but there are top-class strikers here and I just need to wait for my chance.

"When that comes is down to the manager. It's unfortunate for Georgios Samaras, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Chris Killen, who have injuries right now.

"But I just need to keep myself prepared and be ready every time the manager needs me. That's what I'll be doing."

Sheridan, who appears to have that invaluable asset of genuine pace even though he's over six foot, embraces the concept that the modern striker has to have plenty in their armoury to cut it.

At Old Trafford he got a close glimpse of the very best; the touch, presence and grace of Dimitar Berbatov, and the sheer raw power, speed and class of Wayne Rooney.

These men are operating at the very top of the business, but Sheridan admits that working hard to improve himself is something he has to do.

In the build-up to the United match Strachan, quite rightly, spoke of how it would be unfair to throw the youngster in from the start, given he had only played in a handful of first-team matches so far.

He also highlighted how a step up to first team training levels for the first time, and the pressures that come with that physically, are the things Celtic are keeping an eye on.

"You see the top guys like Rooney and Berbatov the other night and they have everything in their game," Sheridan added.

"I watch a lot of strikers to try and learn things and, of course, try to pick up things from training and playing alongside Sami and big Jan here.

"I know that a lot of the game now is based on pace and power, so building myself up is something I will keep working on to improve."

Sheridan certainly carried no inhibitions into the Theatre of Dreams when he was pitched on for the final 15 minutes of Celtic's 3-0 defeat that leaves them heading towards a Uefa Cup battle with Aalborg unless they can glean a major points haul from the three group games they have left.

A couple of darting runs, and a real directness in his play certainly suggest that Strachan is right to have faith in the player.

It was a personal high for Sheridan to enter that kind of company, even if the result left him as disappointed as everyone else in the Celtic camp.

Reflecting on his Old Trafford experience, he smiled: "The manager just said to me try and score a goal'. That's my job as a striker, and I went on and tried to get forward when I could.

"There were a couple of things I felt I could have done better with, and a header I maybe should have got on target, but it was a good experience even if the result was a blow.

"We knew it would be tough against them, but it's the ultimate dream for young guys like me to play in these kind of matches.

"I would like to be involved in the return game, but we'll see what happens. We need to try and win the match when they come to Glasgow. But we have important games in the SPL and in the cup before that, so we'll be focusing on them."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gibson unfazed by Dumphy criticism

Derry's Manchester United midfielder, Darron Gibson, has hit back at criticism directed at his performance during his full international debut for Ireland against Cyprus in Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier at Croke Park.

The 20 years-old from Barr’s Lane was a shock inclusion in Giovanni Trapattoni’s starting line-up having impressed the Italian with his performance in Ireland’s exhibition match against Nottingham Forest last Thursday evening, the new Irish boss electing to select him ahead of the Sunderland pairing, Andy Reid and Liam Millar, for the crucial clash with the Cypriots.

Gibson delivered a solid performance alongside fellow novice, Glenn Whelan of Stoke City, in central midfield but the pair came in for a barrage of fierce criticism following the game, most notably from RTE panellist, Eamon Dunphy, who questioned the Derry man’s inclusion and credibility, describing Gibson as a ‘ninth-choice’ Manchester United midfielder!

Gibson, however, remained unfazed by those comments and remains of the view that he had proved himself capable of playing at the highest level.

“I don’t care what anyone is saying about me, to be honest,” said Darron last night.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been fitter than what I am now and the main thing is that we won the game. The manager told both Glenn Whelan and myself to sit deep and help with defending. It was a typically Italian way of playing of the game,” he claimed.

“It was a different role than what I’m used to playing at Manchester United, I suppose I’d rather be bombing forward and be more attacking, but it was a big confidence-booster to play at this level and, hopefully, I can kick on from here and make an impression in the squad.”

It was the former Tristar player’s third Irish cap, having made two substitute appearances under Trapattoni's predecessor, Steve Staunton, against Denmark and Slovakia, but this was, by some considerable distance, the biggest game of his career to date.

Delighted to get his chance ahead of regular English Premiership stars, Reid and Millar, Gibson revealed his intention to secure his place in the squad for next month’s friendly against Poland.

“I was delighted to be brought in for such a big game. I wouldn’t want to be brought in any other way. I think I’ve now shown I can play and handle the pressure at International level.

“It wasn’t the best of games, but I thought I passed the ball well enough and the main thing was that we won the game. I think I played well and, hopefully, I can keep my place in the side. We have a friendly game next month against Poland and I would hope to be playing,” continued Darron.

“It was my first time playing at Croke Park. The pitch was excellent and the atmosphere was great. I must admit that I was a bit nervous before the match but once it got started I was fine. The coaches were telling me all week to speak more and shout a bit more on the pitch and I’m hoarse today as a result!”

But did his call-up to the starting line-up come as a surprise?

“I wasn’t expecting to be called into the squad, so I was delighted when I found out,” he revealed. “Liam Brady seems to like me.

He talked to Trapattoni about me and they sat down to watch some videos before Trapattoni watched me for the first time against Nottingham Forest and made his decision based on that performance.

“The manager told me that I would be in the squad, but I never thought I’d be starting. He didn’t actually tell me I was starting and it wasn’t until we were going through tactics and the formation that I realised I was in the starting line-up.

“It was a brilliant experience and it’s been a real rollercoster few days.”

Gibson is also hopeful of making an impression in the Manchester United squad this year and is anxious to build on his one first team appearance this season.

“I’m really hoping to get my chance and make an impact this season. There’s a lot of competition for places at Old Trafford but there’s been a few injuries and a few players away this weekend, so maybe I’ll get a chance against West Brom this Saturday,” he concluded.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trapattoni satisfied with win over Cyprus

It was mission accomplished for Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni when he gave his assessment of the 1-0 win over Cyprus at Croke Park on Wednesday in the 2010 World Cup qualifier.

“This is a great victory,” said the Italian. ”I said to my players on Tuesday that, tomorrow we look to play well, but the result is most important. The performance comes and goes but the results stays.

“We got a great start with the goal but we stopped playing a bit. The last time we played Cyprus here we drew 1-1 and Ireland lost 5-2 in Cyprus as well. In future, we can play with more confidence.

"I thought Cyprus pushed and pushed. Cyprus played well. All their players played well with confidence. Our defenders were very strong. We didn't have any real difficulties. I like Cyprus though. They have a lot of good players.

“But we got this very important win and I want to congratulate the players because they played the final minutes with so much heart.”

He added: "Damien Duff is one of the stronger players in the team. I thought (Aiden) McGeady had great qualities too. Their specialty is running down the wings but I thought they suffered a bit with two in the centre of midfield.

“In this team we haven't had time to look and check out another scheme like three in midfield or another player in attack. In November, in the friendly (against Poland), we maybe look at the three in midfield.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Darron Gibson handed midfield role for Cyprus clash

Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, has announced his team to face Cyprus in the FIFA World Cup, group 8 qualifier, tomorrow, Wednesday October 15.

Manchester United midfielder, Darron Gibson, is set to make his third senior international appearance, six days after starring for the Republic of Ireland XI in a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest.

Also returning to the starting line-up is Paul McShane in defence while Damien Duff returns from injury to feature in his first game of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.

This will be Gibson’s first start at International level. He made his full debut in August 2007 as a half-time substitute against Denmark in a friendly before featuring again as a substitute a few week later in the EURO 2008 qualifier against Slovakia.

The 20-year old particularly caught the eye of Trapattoni in last week’s challenge match against Forest when he played for the first 55 minutes.

The manager believes the Manchester United man has the ability to be a key asset within Ireland’s central midfield on Wednesday night when he partners Glenn Whelan in the middle.

"At the moment, we are missing Steven Reid (through injury) and his physical aspect," said Trapattoni.

"Gibson is confident on the ball. He plays the easy ball and he looks before the ball comes and, for me, that is a good quality.

"The first reason (for him playing) is his height and the second is that he plays with confidence.

"He doesn't play very often, but he plays for Manchester United. Manchester United are a very important team. I want to try him out because he could be somebody who works very well in midfield also in the future."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dunne determined to avoid another Cyprus disaster

"After Cyprus, that campaign was never about the football."

Two years after the worst night in recent Irish soccer memory, Richard Dunne believes Ireland have a manager to cope with any adversity

It was the night when the foundations of the Staunton regime crumbled before the cement had even begun to set. Cyprus, bloody Cyprus.

Richard Dunne answered hundreds of questions on the issue of the small Mediterranean nation this week, struggling to find new perspectives on the 90 minutes that Irish football wishes to forget.

You should know what happened, so expanding on the basic details is unnecessary. The 5-2 defeat in Nicosia on that miserable night in October two years ago has loomed like a shadow over this generation of Irish players. Never more than a question away.


After that humiliation, the Euro 2008 campaign was doomed to failure. Dunne concedes that it set off a chain of misery which ruined his enjoyment of international football, and he wasn't alone in that sentiment.

He has sympathy for Steve Staunton, who was brought in believing he would implement a four-year plan, but was goosed after two competitive games. The final blow to his tenure was struck when Cyprus swaggered into Croke Park 12 months later and deserved to win only for Steve Finnan's injury-time equaliser. By then, the jury had already voted unanimously for change.

It brought to an end a tumultuous period in our football history, the kind of year which the Manchester City defender never wants to experience again. He does not wish to criticise Staunton, but reckons that Giovanni Trapattoni's method of leadership is capable of keeping the blues away and handling adversity in a more constructive fashion.

The press fall-out from Cyprus Part I was vicious. And the response from management and players was to adopt a siege mentality. The problem, according to Dunne, is that the issue escalated beyond that and began to dominate everything. All sides were implicated, and the powers-that-be in the Irish camp were guilty of getting caught up in the recriminations and paranoia emanating from the drawn-out post-mortem.

Ill feeling and never-ending tension became the story. Football? It was the reason they were all there, but not the focus. With sour faces all around, the environment was an unsettling one.

"The confidence was damaged," reflects Dunne, speaking in his latest promotion of EA Sports' FIFA 09 computer game. "There was just a whole negative thing every time we came over.

"Right, there was football on one side, but there were always different stories everywhere about different things, that somebody's not happy with somebody and somebody doesn't like him. They were all side stories, but they ended up becoming the talk of the training ground.

"It wasn't a case of just concentrate on the match because there always seemed to be something going on somewhere.

"This time, you come over and the manager has no interest in what anyone writes about him. There's no worry around the place.

"There's nobody saying 'oh, a reporter said this about you.' The manager doesn't care, and the players have no reason to care. You know what I mean?

"It's just play football, do our interviews, do everything and whatever is written then it doesn't matter. The players have no need to worry because the manager's not thinking 'we have to win this game because of what the press wrote'.

"He's told us that. He says to us that if we get a five-out-of-10 or a 10-out-of-10 in the papers it doesn't matter because in two weeks' time people will look at the result and they won't care.

"So if you win one-nil and you have a shit game then who gives a f**k, we've won the game so nobody is interested in the paper afterwards. Everyone has bad games, but we're all just trying to win so that's it. There's no point worrying about the other stuff."

That relaxed nature comes from the top down and, in that respect, Dunne has warmed to Trapattoni. With his experience, no job is too big for him although the counterpoint to the good vibes is that he's enjoyed a relatively easy ride so far.

A defeat will test his disposition, but Dunne has noted the manner in which he is nonplussed by outside influences.

"There's him, his coaching staff and the team and you can tell that nothing else really matters to him," explains the centre-half. "If people want to slag him off or anything then so be it, but he'll do the job his way. He doesn't have time for anybody who won't go along with him.

"He walks around the place and looks confident, he walks around with a strut and I think it rubs off on the players. We like him because everyone trusts him and realises that he knows what he's on about."

As Ireland prepare to take on Cyprus for the fourth successive October, the presence of a manager in the dugout with no demons related to the opposition can only be a good thing, according to the Tallaght man.

The previous games have claimed casualties in addition to Staunton, Devlin, McDonald et al. Paddy Kenny, Andy O'Brien and Clinton Morrison effectively ceased to become Irish internationals after the infamous drubbing.

They were expendable, but the marquee names struggled that night. It's worth remembering that the other eight members of the starting XI were Finnan, O'Shea, Dunne, Kilbane, Ireland, McGeady, Duff and Keane. Young in places, but still a respectable delegation.

Like the rest of the back four, Dunne endured a torrid night and eventually received a red card but he is not scarred by it and believes it would be counterproductive for anyone to speak in such terms with next Wednesday on the horizon.

"It's two years ago and we're still being asked about that game," he says. "It's not any clearer now, there are no new answers or revelations or anything like that. We got hammered, that's still what happened so we can't change it.

"There's no point in sitting back and thinking, 'awh, that was a really bad night, I hope that doesn't happen' and worrying. We have just got to hope that it's a new game, a new manager, and a new campaign. I don't think we should be fearful of it.

"Because when the fixture comes around and everyone starts saying what a bad day that was -- and last year as well -- then negative thoughts are going through everyone's head. Whereas for them it's all positive.

"They come into the game knowing they hammered us before and got a good result the last time. They'll be confident.

"Their manager is already saying they expect to win it so we've just got to forget about what's gone on in the past and make sure we're as confident as them because I believe our squad is a lot better than theirs and our team should be capable of beating them."

It is the confident talk which supporters want to hear but there is a certain irony about the prevailing mood ahead of the next instalment of the Cypriot saga.


The thrashing in Nicosia reverberated so much because the general feeling was that they were opposition that should be brushed aside.

Staunton did have a point. Cyprus were an improving side and continue to bear out that theory, yet they're still nowhere near as accomplished as Ireland allowed them to look in the aborted attempt at making it to Austria and Switzerland.

Putting that right next Wednesday is the only way the longest post-mortem in history can finally be brought to a close.

Looking forward rather than backwards is the key.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ireland squad v Cyprus

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has called up five more players for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Cyprus at Croke Park.

Caleb Folan, Kevin Foley, Anthony Stokes, Keith Andrews and Darron Gibson have all been elevated to the squad.

Steve Finnan, Steven Reid and Stephen Kelly have been ruled out by injuries.

Newcastle winger Damien Duff returns to the squad after missing the win over Georgia and the draw in Montenegro which ensured a promising start.

Goalkeeper Joe Murphy also earned a recall to the squad.

Finnan was ruled out after sustaining a calf strain in his debut for Spanish side Espanyol a couple of weeks ago while Kelly is unavailable because of a thigh injury.

Reid has missed Blackburn's last three games because of a knee injury and his absence is a major blow for Trapattoni.

The Ireland boss has included Liam Miller in the squad even though that Sunderland midfielder has been troubled recently by a groin strain.

Despite his midfield problems which include the self-imposed absence of Stephen Ireland, Trapattoni elected not to recall Lee Carsley and the Birmingham player's international days could now be over.

Paul McShane has been playing mainly at full-back since his loan move to Hull and he looks in line to replace Finnan.

Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: S Given (Newcastle Utd), D Kiely (West Brom), J Murphy (Scunthorpe Utd)

Defenders: A Bruce (Ipswich Town), D Delaney (QPR), R Dunne (Manchester City), K Kilbane (Wigan Athletic), J O'Brien (Bolton), J O'Shea (Manchester Utd), P McShane (Sunderland - on loan at Hull City), K Foley (Wolves)

Midfielders: S Hunt (Reading), A McGeady (Celtic), D Duff (Newcastle Utd), L Miller (Sunderland), A Reid (Sunderland), G Whelan (Stoke City), K Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), D Gibson (Manchester Utd)

Forwards: K Doyle (Reading), R Keane (Liverpool), A Keogh (Wolves), S Long (Reading), D Murphy (Sunderland), C Folan (Hull), A Stokes (Sunderland).