Sunday, November 23, 2008

Georgios Samaras: It won't be long until Cillian Sheridan is first pick

Comeback man Georgios Samaras has hailed Irish hitkid Cillian Sheridan for his superb stand-in performances leading the line for Celtic.

The fit-again striker is set to push the Co. Cavan 19-year-old back on to the bench for Tuesday's Champions League crunch in Aalborg - but reckons it's only a matter of time before Sheridan is one of the first names on the team sheet.

Hoops boss Gordon Strachan was forced to throw his rookie in at the deep end for the Champions League doubleheader against Manchester United after an injury crisis robbed him of Samaras and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.

But the Irish kid took on the task brilliantly and went on to clock up a run of nine games including his starring role in the recent SPL victory over Kilmarnock when he scored a double.

During that time Samaras, who hurt his knee on international duty with Greece in October, was working behind the scenes to help the Parkhead prodigy with advice and encouragement.

And the 23-year-old admitted watching Sheridan emerge from the shadows to claim a first-team jersey was no surprise to those who train with him every day.

Georgios said: "Maybe people were surprised but I'm not. We worked together in pre-season and he has talent.

"He has the ability to be a striker for many years at Celtic. He's a natural and there's lots more to come from him.

"When you see a kid with his ability you are just waiting for him to explode.

"Now he has grabbed his chance he has a big future."

It's fair to say Samaras sees a lot of himself in Sheridan having made his first-team debut for Dutch side Heerenveen when he was just 17.

Perhaps that's why the Greek star has been so keen to work with him in training. Samaras said: "I was 16 when I went to Holland and after one year I played my first game so I know exactly how Cillian is feeling.

"That's why I try to help him. It's difficult when you are so young and start to play for the first team.

"You need somebody by your side who will try to help you.

That's important.

"So I have been talking to Cillian all the time in training, telling him when to ask for the ball, how to keep the ball, everything.

"We worked together during pre-season and when you see such a talented player all you can do is try to push him to do more and more. You do that because you can see he has the ability."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ireland 2-3 Poland

Giovanni Trapattoni tasted defeat for the first time as Ireland boss despite a remarkable late fightback against Poland.

Leo Beenhakker's Poland side looked to be heading for a comfortable victory at Croke Park when substitute Roger Guerreiro added a 47th-minute second goal to skipper Mariusz Lewandowski's early opener.

But having earlier seen midfielder Damien Duff pass up three glorious opportunities, Ireland belatedly discovered their touch in front of goal to set up a tense finish.

Substitute Stephen Hunt reduced the deficit with an 88th-minute penalty, and after Robert Lewandowski had restored his side's two-goal advantage, fellow newcomer Keith Andrews marked his senior international debut with an injury-time strike.

Despite a rousing finish, however, Trapattoni's men were left in little doubt as to the task ahead of them when they return to action next year.

Three wins and as many draws from his first six matches, and seven World Cup points from a possible nine, had given the Italian a creditable start to his reign.

But just as a nation started to dream of South Africa 2010, Poland turned up to remind the the 69-year-old and his players, if ever they needed it, that the job has only just begun.

Trapattoni handed senior international debuts to substitutes Andrews and Noel Hunt and a first start to Caleb Folan on a night which saw Kevin Kilbane win his 92nd cap to move into second place in the country's all-time appearance list.

While the manager always intended to use the game to look at some of the emerging members of his squad, he admitted he would have one eye on the result, and to that end, he will have had mixed feelings as he headed for the dressing room at half-time.

Hull City striker Folan, deputising for injured skipper Robbie Keane, was a real handful for the Polish defence, and linked nicely with both partner Kevin Doyle and wide-men Duff and Andy Keogh.

However, it was Mariusz Lewandowski who proved the most potent force in either penalty area during the opening 45 minutes.

His third-minute glancing header from Lukasz Gargula's free-kick put his side ahead with Folan unable to prevent him opening the scoring, and the towering midfielder was left criminally unmarked as he met Jacek Krzynowek's 27th-minute corner but this time, could not hit the target.

Indeed, the visitors, roared on by a sizeable proportion of the Polish community currently living in Ireland, might have had the game won by the break had lone striker Pawel Brozek not passed up a golden opportunity five minutes before the break.

Richard Dunne, who had dashed back to Manchester to be with his pregnant wife last night before returning to Dublin this afternoon, miscued a clearance into Brozek's path, but then recovered superbly to dispossess him before he could shoot.

But for all Poland's impressive play going forward, they too looked vulnerable at the back, and they were grateful that Duff had left his shooting boots back on Tyneside.

He lifted a fifth-minute right-foot shot high over after Doyle and Folan had created space for him, and then fired wastefully into the side-netting as he ran on to Doyle's 29th-minute pass.

Duff did well to work his way into a shooting position after combining well with Folan two minutes before the break, but he slipped as he went for goal and skewed his effort well wide.

Beenhakker made two changes at the break and one of the new arrivals, Guerreiro, wasted little time in making an impact.

The Brazilian-born midfielder had only been only the pitch a little more than a minute when he ran on to Gargula's flick and dispatched a left-foot shot emphatically past Shay Given and into the bottom corner.

It should have been 3-0 with 59 minutes gone when Robert Lewandowski fired wide from close range, although the real fireworks were still to come.

Trapattoni made five second-half substitutions and Beenhakker four, and the result was explosive.

Alex Bruce headed just over and Shane Long saw a looping effort cleared off the line by defender Dariusz Dudka, and Ireland's reward finally came with two minutes remaining when Stephen Hunt converted from the spot after Long had been felled by Tomasz Jodlowiec.

Robert Lewandowski's 89th-minute strike killed the Irish celebrations in their infancy, but Andrews left his mark on an astonishing end to the game in injury-time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If Trapattoni is happy - then I am too - Darron Gibson

Praise from Ireland coach, as well as Red Devils boss Ferguson, is all that really matters to Darron Gibson

Darron Gibson didn't read a newspaper or listen to a radio show after he made his Croke Park debut in last month's World Cup qualifier against Cyprus.

He got a pat on the back and a 'well done' in the ear from the men who matter most in his career, Giovanni Trapattoni and Alex Ferguson, and that's what is truly important to the 21-year-old.

Trapattoni caused some degree of surprise by choosing the United rookie -- who only made his Premier League debut for United in Saturday's thrashing of Stoke City -- in central midfield for the clash with Cyprus, Derry native Gibson getting the nod ahead of more experienced men like Andy Reid, Liam Miller or Joey O'Brien.

Most observers agreed that the Irish central midfield of Gibson and Glenn Whelan didn't exactly light up Croke Park on the night and Gibson was roundly criticised for his display against the Cypriots.

But the United man, likely to win another cap against Poland on Wednesday, told the Herald that criticism doesn't affect him.

"I didn't read anything that was written or said about me after the Cyprus game," said Gibson, who came on as a second-half sub in United's win over Stoke.

"I don't care what is said about me. As long as I do the business for my manager and play well, I am happy.


"And I know that I did that against Cyprus. Mr Trapattoni came up to me after the game, said I did well and that I was very much part of his plans and that meant a lot to me, coming from such an experienced manager.

"And when I went into training the next day, Alex Ferguson took me aside, said he had seen bits and pieces from our match in Dublin, that I had done well and to keep it up. So, if those two experienced managers are happy with me, then that's good enough for me," added Gibson, who played 90 minutes for his club in their midweek Carling Cup win over QPR last Tuesday.

"Cyprus went well for me, in my opinion. Myself and Glenn Whelan were picked to do a job and we did that job. We played okay and we won the game.

"I heard that the two of us in midfield got a bit of stick but we did what the manager asked us to do and in football I don't think you can do any more.

"It was a big thing for me, to start a game at Croke Park. I know I am young and still learning the game, but I feel I will only improve from the experience of games like that.

"The manager only told me on the day of the game that I was starting for certain. There was stuff in the press and on the radio the day before that I might play. He didn't make a big fuss of playing me, he just named the team from one to 11 and I was in it.

"Even though it had been rumoured that I might play, I was still in a bit of shock. The idea of starting a World Cup game for my country at Croke Park, and such an important game, was a big thing for me.

"I know the manager took a risk in starting me against Cyprus as I am not as experienced as other players in the squad. He took a bit of stick from the press over that, but he doesn't care; the media don't faze him at all. He knows what he wants to do and he sticks with it."

Trapattoni has shown so far in his seven-month reign as Ireland coach that loyalty is a vital part of his make up. Do the business the way he wants and you will keep getting chances, as people like Whelan, Andy Keogh and Kevin Kilbane have found out.

And Gibson hopes that stays true for the next few games at least, starting on Wednesday against the Poles,

"It's a big game for people like myself and Glenn Whelan," says Gibson. "At the moment, I am not playing too many games for my club and Glenn's not a regular with Stoke right now, so we need to play and do well against Poland to stay in the Ireland team.

"It's not so long before the next qualifier, against the Georgians in February, and I think I need a good game, if I am selected against Poland, to stay in the team.

"There is a slot available in the Irish side as Steven Reid is out injured and will be out for a while. I had the chance in the last game against Cyprus and it's up to me to try and keep myself in the team," added Gibson.

One problem for Trapattoni is that so few of his central midfielders are getting regular game time with their clubs: Gibson, Whelan and Liam Miller have all struggled to get starts in the Premier League this season, while those who do play more regularly (Joey O'Brien, Andy Reid, Rory Delap and Lee Carsley) all failed to make the squad.

That's why it's important for Gibson, now in his fifth year at Old Trafford, to push on with his club career. And just as an injury to Steven Reid has opened up a slot in the Ireland team for Gibson, the same could happen at club level with injury ruling out United duo Owen Hargreaves and Paul Scholes.

"I would never wish bad luck on anyone and it's terrible for the club to see Hargreaves missing the whole season. I hope he gets back, but it does give me some chance," added Gibson, who showcased his talents with a rare 90 minutes in the 1-0 win over QPR.


"It was a tough enough game for us. We had to work hard to win it but I think we deserved it in the end.

"There's been a lot of talk about the new generation of Arsenal players, how good their youngsters have been in the Carling Cup when they've played, but I think the United team and our younger players did pretty well against QPR. It would be nice if we got some of the good press that Arsenal get for playing their youngsters.

"It was good for me to get the 90 minutes under my belt. I've had a couple of sub appearances for United before, but never a full game, so that was a big boost to my confidence. The fact that the manager started me and kept me on for the whole game meant a lot to me. For me, it was a step closer to the first team and me being involved on a more regular basis."

United have twice sent Gibson out on loan, both times for a whole season, to Wolves and also the Red Devils' continental feeder club Royal Antwerp. Gibson may take another loan move -- but if that happens it's likely to be with another Premier League club.

He said: "I will leave things as they are until Christmas and see what happens. I plan to have a chat with the manager over the next few weeks to see what his plans are.

"If I can get another appearance or two under my belt between now and the New Year, it will strengthen my case to stay and try to get into the team, but it's his call.

"I know that I need to be playing games. If the manager wants to keep me here for the whole season and sees me as part of his plans, then of course I will stay, but if he thinks that I need a bit more time on loan, then I will go on loan."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Coyle calls for McCann call-up

Burnley boss Owen Coyle has called on Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni to end Chris McCann's international exile.

McCann has not figured for Ireland since walking out of the U-21 squad in November 2007 when he was named on the bench for a European Championship qualifier.

The former Home Farm player has produced some storming displays in Burnley's midfield this season, including a goal-scoring performance at Reading last Saturday.

Former Ireland international striker Coyle believes the 21-year-old is good enough to be considered for the senior set-up.

"The Republic of Ireland must have an unbelievable abundance of quality for Chris not to be involved at any level," said Coyle.

"I think he is getting better and he is showing great maturity. I believe he's capable of playing in the Premier League and being involved with the Republic of Ireland.

"I know he is desperate to represent his country."

McCann has already played over 100 games for Burnley and has been a driving force in their climb up the Championship table.

And despite being overlooked for Ireland's 'B' friendly against Nottingham Forest on Thursday, the Dubliner has not given up hope of forcing his way back into international contention.

McCann said: "A 'B' squad has been announced and I'm not in it but I won't get too down about it. As long as I am playing well hopefully something will happen sooner rather than later.''

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Doyle extends Reading contract

Reading and Ireland striker Kevin Doyle has signed a new deal which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2011.

The 25-year-old told the club website: "We wanted to act now and then concentrate fully on the season.

"The club and I didn't want any uncertainty in January. We wanted to clear things up now and then just try to get back into the Premiership."

Doyle signed for the Royals from Cork City in 2005. He has scored 11 league goals in 15 games this season.