Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Trapattoni looking for legendary display

Giovanni Trapattoni has returned to his native Italy full of belief in his Ireland team.

The 70-year-old was quick to acknowledge his Ireland side will be big underdogs when they run out to face the world champions in Bari tomorrow evening.

However, the former Italy coach has been in football long enough to know the odds are not always the best indicator of what will happen on the night.

Trapattoni said: "Sometimes, I think about legends, I think about the famous legend of David and Goliath. We should be David and Italy should be Goliath.

"Legends remain legends but I have a lot of trust in my team, a lot of belief.

"We have to believe in everything we have done so far. We still have five matches to go before the end of the qualification and one of the most important matches is going to be tomorrow against Italy."

Italy have played seven senior internationals in Bari over the years - including the third-fourth place World Cup play-off against England at Italia 90 - and have won each of them, although Trapattoni did not want to be reminded of the statistic.

He said: "I am a believer, so don't jinx me."

Lippi's side extended their lead at the top of Group Eight from goal difference to two points on Saturday evening as a result of their 2-0 win in Montenegro while Ireland could only draw 1-1 with Bulgaria at Croke Park.

But a win for Ireland in Bari would throw the race for automatic qualification wide open again.

Asked if a win over his home country would be the biggest of his career, the wily Trapattoni said: "Thank God, I have had many other victories.

"It's a very important game for our qualification. I am the Ireland coach and I want to win - I would be a hypocrite if I said I wouldn't be happy with a win.

"But it's all about our qualification."

The game promises to be an emotional occasion for a man who is regarded as one of Italy's finest coaches despite his relative lack of success in the national job.

While he insists there will be no divided loyalties, he admits there will be a lump in his throat when the Italian anthem is played.

He said: "It's my national anthem - but I get equally emotional when I hear the Irish anthem."

Trapattoni will not name his team until tomorrow morning as he gives Celtic winger Aiden McGeady until the last minute to prove his fitness after he suffered a knee injury in the Bulgaria game, with Andy Keogh standing by to replace him.

But one man who will definitely be in the starting line-up is skipper Robbie Keane, who had a brief spell in Italy with Inter Milan after being snapped up by Lippi earlier in his career.

He is under no illusions about the task ahead of his side but is convinced they can leave with something to show for their efforts.

Keane said: "I am not naive enough to think we are going to come here and walk all over the Italians.

"It's going to be a difficult game. But we have to be positive enough to come here and hope to get a good result because, as players, you go into every game and you want to win every game.

"But if we get something out of the game - as long as we don't lose, that's the most important thing."

That is a sentence that could have come straight from the mouth of the current Ireland manager, whose safety-first reputation as a coach goes before him, both at home and abroad.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Brady in confident mood

Liam Brady believes Ireland have got world champions Italy worried simply because of their choice of venue for Wednesday night's Group eight qualifier.

The Irish squad headed out from Dublin this afternoon for the Group Eight clash with the Italians at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari having conceded a two-point lead to Marcello Lippi's men as a result of their 1-1 draw with Bulgaria at Croker on Saturday night.

Until the weekend, Ireland and boss Giovanni Trapattoni, were level on points with the World Cup holders and genuine competition for automatic qualification.

That, in the eyes of assistant boss Brady, who played under Trapattoni for Juventus and also for Sampdoria, Inter Milan and Ascoli, is the main reason Wednesday's game is being staged in the south of the country.

He said: 'I know the Italian Federation, when they feel it's a difficult match, they like to take their games down south. When they are much more confident, they play up north, so it's a good sign for us that we are playing there.'

The game will see 70-year-old Trapattoni lock horns with his successor as national boss in a contest which has been eagerly anticipated since the draw was made.

Brady said: 'I suppose Giovanni is the king of Italian coaches, isn't he, and there is going to be huge interest in the battle between Lippi and Giovanni.

'Lippi is reigning world champion and it is going to be huge over in Italy.'

Ireland arrived in Bari in determined mood, still getting over the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser against the Bulgarians which, if it did not exactly release their grip on at least second place and a play-off berth, certainly loosened it a little.

The trip to Italy will undoubtedly be the most difficult challenge of the qualification campaign, and with away games in Bulgaria and Cyprus to follow before they welcome Lippi's side to Croke Park in October, they are well aware just how significant a positive result could be.

Brady said: 'In this group, if you look at it, there has been very little in the games played already as regards teams winning by large margins.

'Nobody has really had an easy game and I think we are in for much of the same on Wednesday. We feel as if we can go there and get something from the match, and we are in a very good position points-wise in the group.'

The game will inevitably rekindle memories of Ireland's famous World Cup finals victory over the Italians at New York's Giants Stadium back in 1994, and Brady is hoping those memories might provide an added inspiration.

He said: 'Well, that was a great moment, wasn't it? I don't think the Italians expected us to win that afternoon in the Giants Stadium, but I was there and what a great feeling it was to beat Italy in a World Cup match in the finals.

'We are going into this situation with a healthy amount of points on the board, and I think we will give them a hell of a game. You never know, we might come up with something like that. That would be nice.'

Lippi will be without a series of players through injury, including in-form Udinese striker Antonio di Natale, but Trapattoni too has his problems.

Newcastle winger Damien Duff was ruled out of the game with a hamstring problem last week, while Aiden McGeady has recovered from the bruised foot which threatened his participation against Bulgaria, but is now struggling with a knock to his knee and Wolves striker Andy Keogh is standing by.

Brady said: 'It's a little bit swollen, so he has just had a walk today. We will get him over to Italy tonight and assess him in training tomorrow evening and the manager will make a decision then whether he plays.

'He is a slight doubt, but I think he will be okay to play again on Wednesday.'

Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane all missed training at Malahide this morning, but only as a precaution, and all three are expected to be available

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dunne upbeat despite disappointing draw

Ireland defender Richard Dunne admitted to some "disappointment" after yesterday evenings draw at home to Bulgaria - but is still confident of progression from World Cup Qualifying Group Eight.

Ireland scored via Dunne after only 40 seconds at Croke Park but were pegged back by a Kevin Kilbane own goal in the second half.

It was an outcome which, along with Italy's 2-0 win at Montenegro, means Giovanni Trapattoni's team will head to his homeland this week three points adrift of their table-topping opponents.

Bulgaria remain a further seven points behind the Republic, and Dunne told Sky Sports 1: "They are a good side. They knew how bad a situation it would be for them if they lost - and they made it difficult for us.

"We started really well and really should have been pushing on."

The eventual draw left Dunne equivocal - but still believing Ireland can put Italy in the shade.

"I think for us, we had to keep the seven-point gap - minimum," he said.

"It is a disappointing result - we are disappointed not to get the points - but we are still in a good position.

"We've said all along we don't fear Italy, so we feel we can go there on Wednesday and get a result."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keane backs Hunt to fill gap

Ireland skipper Robbie Keane is sure Stephen Hunt can plug the sizeable gap left by Damien Duff against Bulgaria on Saturday night.

The 27-year-old Reading midfielder will deputise for his injured Newcastle counterpart in the World Cup qualifier at Croke Park, desperate to build upon the impression he made against Georgia and Montenegro earlier in the campaign.

Giovanni Trapattoni has no qualms over throwing Hunt into the starting line-up in place of one of his most influential players in recent games, and that confidence extends to the rest of his players.

Keane said: "It's obviously a massive blow to us [losing Duff]. He has been fantastic over the years and especially in this campaign, and it's a big blow to us because he is a very important player.

"But it gives someone else an opportunity now to play and to do well for the team.

"Stephen Hunt will come in and I am sure he will give it his all like he always does.

"It's disappointing, but it gives someone else an opportunity."

Worryingly for Trapattoni, his other first-choice wide-man, Aiden McGeady, is also struggling with a badly-bruised foot, but the Italian has no plans to abandon the system he has adopted during his time in charge.

That could mean employing either Andy Keogh or Shane Long, both strikers by trade, out wide, but again, Keane is confident whoever is selected will do a job as Ireland attempt to maintain the pressure on Group Eight leaders Italy, who they face in Bari on Wednesday evening.

He said: "We have got players like Stephen Hunt, who is an out-and-out winger, and he does a similar job to Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff.

"And if Andy Keogh or Shane Long come in, the two of them are hard-working players who are strong and quick.

"It may be a little bit different because the two of them are strikers.

"Andy's a good player and he's having a good season with Wolves. Wolves are top of the league and he's part of that squad.

"He's played there on a few occasions before and he has done well for us. He's a hard worker, he is quick, he is good in the air and he can obviously score a goal.

"But at the end of the day, no matter who plays we have to be comfortable with whoever the manager brings in, and Andy is certainly capable of coming in and doing a good job for us."

Bulgaria have their own injury concerns, not least star striker Dimitar Berbatov's absence with an ankle problem, although Trapattoni insists there is no room for complacency.

He said: "They have other players - [Velizar] Dimitrov, [Ivelin] Popov, [Blagoy] Georgiev.

"Georgiev is one of the best players from free-kicks. Italy has [Andrea] Pirlo, but Georgiev can score a goal very quickly.

"We will have to concentrate from the first minute until the 94th minute when we will be in the dressing room."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Keane urges Ireland to focus on Bulgaria

Ireland captain Robbie Keane has warned his team-mates not to get ahead of themselves as they look ahead to their World Cup showdown with reigning champions Italy next Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Dubliner will lead his side into their Group Eight clash with Bulgaria on Saturday evening focusing only on the three points which will maintain the pressure on Lippi's Italian team ahead of their meeting in Bari next Week.

Ireland and the Italians are locked together on 10 points at the top of the table, separated only by the holders' superior goal difference, and a win for either next week could play a major role in deciding which of them qualifies automatically for the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010.

However, while Keane cannot wait to go into battle with the group favourites in a test of just how far Ireland have come under Giovanni Trapattoni, he knows the three points at stake at Croke Park tomorrow are equally, if not more important.

He said: "Of course, it's a big test, but we need to get over the first hurdle first against Bulgaria.

"That is what we are concentrating and focusing on, and then we will focus on Italy.

"Of course, it is going to be a tough game. They are champions and it's going to be a tough game, but these are the games as a player you want to be involved in.

"You want to play against the best teams and the best players, and Italy certainly have them.

"That's something we are looking forward to - after the Bulgaria game."

That same message has been drummed home by Italian Trapattoni, who will send his team out, as he always does, with the intention of winning, but under orders not to return empty-handed.

He continued: "We have to do everything possible to win. How we play is not important; the result is important.

"We will look to win, but it will be important not to lose because on Wednesday in Italy, we will have another very, very great game."

Ireland have put themselves in an great position to secure at least a play-off spot with a run of three victories and a draw in their first four games, and another win would send them into successive trips to Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus brimming with confidence.

Keane said: "Belief comes with results. When you are winning games, that brings belief into the squad and the belief we can go on and win games no matter who we are playing against, and you have seen that over the last four games.

"As long as we believe, no matter who we are playing against, we can go out there and get the three points and win the game, that's all that matters.

"Certainly in this campaign, the belief has come through winning games."

The depth of Trapattoni's Ireland squad will be severely tested over the next few days with influential midfielder Damien Duff back in Newcastle recovering from a hamstring injury, and Aiden McGeady still touch and go with a badly-bruised foot.

Reading winger Stephen Hunt will replace Duff, while Wolves striker Andy Keogh is on stand-by if McGeady does not make it.

Sunderland's Paul McShane seems likely to resume at right-back in place of Stephen Kelly, although Trapattoni is yet to reveal his final decision.

But while his side will be presented with a series of fresh challenges, there is no doubting the desire and commitment within the squad to capitalise on a promising start to the campaign.

Keane has repeatedly spoken of his failure to understand the ongoing club v country debate, and admitted the experiences of he and many of his team-mates have simply increased their patriotism.

He said: "Maybe so, because you have to go away at a younger age and go away to England.

"When you leave Ireland and you are in England, you become even more so because you miss your home and you miss the people, and that hurts.

"I would probably say so - but I am sure other countries would question that.

"It's a massive honour. You ask any player in our squad, or any player in any other's country's squad how important it is to play for your country."

Doyle determined to qualify

Kevin Doyle has called on Ireland to take their chance and qualify for the World Cup.

Ireland are currently joint top of Group Eight ahead of the forthcoming games against Bulgaria and Italy.

The Reading striker Doyle believes Ireland are well-placed to qualify for South Africa next year and he wants the team to build on their impressive start to qualifying.

"It's the chance to qualify for a World Cup coming towards the end of a season where we have set ourselves up very well," said Doyle.

"We have got ourselves into a great position and we need to keep that going in the next two games to keep that excitement alive.

"We have put ourselves in a great position to possibly go to a World Cup which is only a little over 12 months away now.

Touching distance
"It's within touching distance and we want to keep ourselves in this position.

"We are going to try to win this group if we can. Why not? We have put ourselves in a position with half of it to go, so why not?

"We don't want to give Bulgaria that chance to get back into the meat of the group and get back challenging for the top two places.

"We have set ourselves up very nicely at this stage and we need to keep that going by getting a result against them.

"It won't be easy - they have probably been more successful over the last number of years than us.

"They are a good team, but we are confident and we think we can get a result.

"They still have to play us twice, so they can see it as their way back into the group. It would be nice to keep them pegged back there and keep our little run going."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Duff ruled out of World Cup qualifiers

Damien Duff has been ruled out of Ireland's World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Italy with a hamstring injury.

Thursday evening's shock news was a big blow to Ireland boss Giovanni Trapatonni before the important group 8 games against Bulgaria and Italy.

There had been no suggestion of any problem with Duff's fitness and Aiden McGeady remains a fitness doubt because of a foot injury, but goalkeeper Shay Given will be fit.

Reading winger Stephen Hunt looks certain to replace Duff in the starting line-up.

McGeady took only a limited part in training on Thursday and faces a fitness test on Friday.

Wolves midfield Andy Keogh is in line to come into the team if McGeady is ruled out.

Duff picked up the injured in training on Wednesday and a scan on Thursday morning revealed that he is likely to be out for two weeks.

After a long injury-affected spell, Duff has returned to impressive form for in recent games.

The Newcastle winger's withdrawal was confirmed by Republic assistant Liam Brady on Thursday evening.

Duff returned to Newcastle after getting the results of the scan.

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni is already minus injured defender Steve Finnan who misses out because of a hamstring injury.

Ireland take on Group Eight leaders Italy in Bari four days after the Bulgaria game.

The Italians are ahead of Trapattoni's team on goal difference with both teams locked on 10 points after four games.

The Football Association of Ireland are no longer having to consider making new travel arrangements for the Republic squad's trip to Bari.

Airports in Ireland had been expected to be affected by a nationwide strike on Monday - the day that the squad are scheduled to travel to Italy.

However, the strike threat has now been averted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keith Andrews excited by fight ahead

Dubliner Keith Andrews has set his sights on World Cup qualification and Barclays Premier League safety as his season draws to a dramatic conclusion.

The Ireland central midfielder will hope to play a part in Ireland's bid to reach South Africa 2010 when they play Group Eight rivals Bulgaria on Saturday before heading off for a showdown with leaders Italy in Bari four days later.

On his return, the 28-year-old will throw himself back into a very different fight as Blackburn bid to preserve their top-flight status over the remaining eight games of a tense Premiership campaign.

Andrews said: "We have got some vital games - the next two internationals - and then the season finishing with the last eight games in the Premier League, which will obviously determine what league we are going to be in.

"But I have got the utmost confidence at club level that we will be able to stay up, and hopefully we will be okay.

"It's brilliant. These are the games you want to be involved in, they are the exciting times that you train hard to be involved in and to get yourself to a level to be involved in these type of situations."

Richard Dunne - we hold no fear

Its an indicator of how far Ireland have come since the dreary days of late 2007 that Richard Dunne can talk with confidence about winning games of such consequence as those rapidly approaching against Bulgaria and Italy.

The blizzard of confetti surrounding the weekend just gone is still blowing in the wind but Dunne's belief is based on foundations built over the past year and not the wave of expectation building from a nation ready to embrace any kind of success with hysterical yearning.

The qualities on show in the Millennium Stadium, the O2 Arena and, hopefully, Croker on Saturday carry a particular resonance at a time when everything else is falling apart and a hard core of morally and financially bankrupt businessmen, developers and politicians fight like wolverines to hold what they have, no matter what the consequences.

Honesty of effort, integrity, togetherness, respect and dignity are the currency of sport once the whistle blows and the agents and fixers melt away.

Such qualities shine brightly when placed beside the dry rot of selfishness that has been exposed by the global meltdown and it is ironic that many of the pillars of society outed on a daily basis in the media as hollow men are the very lads that celebrate sport most and would shout loudest if they saw a cheat on a football pitch or a choker in the ring.

It is, of course, unfair to Brian O'Driscoll, Bernard or Richard Dunne to add any more weight to the load and let's face it, many Irish sportsmen and women fold completely when they're supposed to win. But it won't stop us doing it anyway.

Fortunately, Dunne is a man who has seen enough of the world to understand the need to keep a balance in his life and while he enjoyed events in Cardiff and the O2 like the rest of us -- he doesn't quite see the connection.

"They're totally different things. We want to win and make the country proud but if we lose on Saturday, we still have games left. As great as it was for everyone watching the rugby, it's a completely different scenario for us on Saturday," said Dunne, pulling everything down to a calmer level.

Which isn't to say that he's anything less than positive about the job at hand. In fact, it is rare to see Irish players so comfortable discussing the possibility of travelling to play a major power and even taking points.

This is the Trapattoni dividend on show. His senior players have grown under his guidance and now believe in themselves.

"We've had bigger weeks, like when we qualified, but in recent times this is as close a chance as we've had to qualifying. If we can beat Bulgaria and get them out of the way we can fight for top spot with Italy."

Dunne agrees there's been a huge turnaround from the last campaign.

"We lost games early in the last group and it set the tone. There was never really a chance of qualifying from the second or third game in. As the games went on, the group petered out. I think the quality has been in the squad and maybe, at times, it hasn't been selected.

"This time the manager has been picking as strong a squad as he possibly can and once we're all fit and free of suspension, I think we've as good a chance as we've had for a long time.

"We've got to go to Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus and we've got tough games to go. But it would hit Bulgaria hard if they looked at the table and were 10 points behind us. Hopefully, it would put them out of it but never say never.

"It was the same last time we qualified -- we need to pick results up away and beat the big sides at home. We need to do that to give ourselves confidence and the fans confidence that maybe we have a side that can give them something to cheer about and give them hope of qualifying for the World Cup.

"This is the biggest game. This is the one we have to win. We have to make sure Bulgaria are 10 points behind us come Sunday morning. Then we can go to Italy with confidence. We believe, within our group, that we can go to Bari and take some points off Italy."

This is the new face of the Ireland senior team and Trapattoni takes great credit for it.

He has grafted a part of his own mentality onto any that needed it.

Dunne didn't need a whole lot. He has been, along with Shay Given, the most consistent of our Premier League players for the past five years and if his form dipped over the past six months, it was never a major cause for concern. Not for him either.

"I have had four, maybe five, really good seasons and I had a bad six months and suddenly everyone is saying you're finished.

"But I haven't changed anything. Over the last 10 games or so, I've been playing really well.

"I had a bad spell. Everyone seemed to have a bad spell at the same time. We've had a lot of young lads in the team who have never had a chance to take a break.

"They've been constantly playing football and that catches up with you when you have young lads in a team.

"We've had a big change in the whole club and I think it just unsettled everybody.

"But since the transfer window everything in the whole club seems to have gone quiet again and performances have picked up.

"Shay Given has done really well too and nobody is really surprised. He's a big loss for Newcastle and he's come in and carried on doing the exact same things for us.

"The way he walks around and gives confidence is important.

"Our defence has returned to form and we worked things out ourselves. We've been trying to build different relationships in training.

"As for the qualifiers, we've tried to prepare as normal, despite the fact we're facing the group's top seeds in our two toughest games."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Duff can help Ireland to the World Cup finals

Newcastle caretaker boss Chris Hughton says that Damien Duff is ready, willing and able to drive the Ireland side all the way to the World Cup finals in South Africa.

Duff has given Giovanni Trapattoni a boost ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualifier at home to Bulgaria, when he completed 90 minutes for Newcastle in their 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal, Duff's first taste of action in a month.

The Dublin born player has started in the last three Ireland games under Trapattoni and will win his 73rd cap against Bulgaria at Croke Park before heading to Bari for that crucial game against Italy on April 1st.

And Duff's current club manager, former Ireland assistant boss Hughton, says that Duff's current form can lead Ireland to the World Cup for the first time since 2002.

"Damien is the player Ireland need if they are to get to the World Cup again, and if Damien stays fit for the rest of the campaign I can see him playing a big role for Ireland," Hughton said today.

"He's back to fitness now after being out for a few weeks, Newcastle missed him badly when he was out but he's come back at a good time for Ireland and he will be a key man in the next two matches.

"When you look at the Irish squad, you look to the ones who can make a difference, come up with one thing in a game that could change the course of a match and the campaign, and Damien is like that.

"Ireland are lucky in that they have some big occasion players like that, someone like Robbie Keane can get a goal from anywhere, Kevin Doyle has tremendous form, Aiden McGeady is always dangerous.

"But Damien is one who can create something out of nothing. When Ireland need him he's there and he's a vital player for the squad, he will be very important as the team look for those points against Bulgaria and Italy."

Giovanni Trapattoni assembled his squad in Dublin this morning before an afternoon training session at their Malahide training base and the Irish boss was relieved to see Duff report for duty, though there are some concerns over the fitness of Shay Given and Aiden McGeady.

"Both McGeady and Given are undergoing medicals at their clubs, but I'm sure they will be available for the next training," said Ireland's assistant coach Marco Tardelli.

"Given has a shoulder problem, but I'm sure he will be here for the Bulgaria game."

Meanwhile the FAI have prepared a contingency plan to deal with possible travel chaos on Monday due to a planned strike at Dublin airport.

The Irish squad are due to fly out to Bari at 4pm on Monday but they may need to change their plans if the strike goes ahead, and the panel may instead leave 24 hours early, from Belfast, or else fly out on Tuesday.

"We have at least two options available to us if Monday turns into a difficulty," said FAI CEO John Delaney.

"One would be going Tuesday from Dublin and one would be going Sunday, probably from Belfast. We're in constant contact with SIPTU and the DAA and they are keeping us advised."

Bulgaria only fly in to Dublin on Friday, 24 hours before the game, and the Italian squad will only arrive in Bari from their Tuscany base at 5pm next Tuesday, so Delaney says that coach Trapattoni is not worried about a late arrival.

His club may have just slipped into the relegation zone in England's Premier League, but Newcastle United's caretaker manager Chris Hughton believes that Damien Duff is coming into the kind of form which can drive the Republic of Ireland all the way to the World Cup finals.

Despite the result, a 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal, Saturday was a big day for Duff as the 30-year-old managed his first full 90 minutes for United in almost two months, and he arrived in Dublin today for international duty ahead of the World Cup double header against Bulgaria and Italy high on confidence, according to Newcastle's stand-in manager.

"Damien is doing very well for us. The only disappointment is when he picks up an injury, which he has done on a couple of occasions this season.

"But his progress has been superb in the last while and he is back to his best, to the stage when he was one of the best players around, in my view," Hughton told the Evening Herald.

"Damien is the player Ireland need if they are to get to the World Cup again, and if Damien stays fit for the rest of the campaign I can see him playing a big role for Ireland.

"When you look at the squad, you look to the ones who can make a difference, come up with one thing in a game that could change the course of a match and the campaign, and Damien is like that. Ireland are lucky in that they have some big occasion players like that, someone like Robbie Keane can get a goal from anywhere, Kevin Doyle has tremendous form, Aiden McGeady is always dangerous.

"But Damien is one who can create something out of nothing. When Ireland need him he's there and he's a vital player for the squad," added Hughton, who worked with Duff in his time as assistant manager with Ireland under Brian Kerr from 2003-2005.

"He's a vital player for this club and for me. The thing that stands out with Damien is that he always wants to do well, he is so gutted when he is out injured and all he wants to do is play and win games for this football club.

"He has been out for the last few weeks but in all that time his attitude was exceptional, he was the ultimate professional, he worked hard all the time to try and get himself back. Every time he has been out it's been a big blow for him, and I think it makes him appreciate it even more when he does get back,"
added Hughton.

The former Tottenham full-back has some empathy with Giovanni Trapattoni and his coaching staff this week ahead of that massive double header in Dublin and Bari -- Hughton was part of the Irish staff the last time the Republic tried to qualify for a World Cup finals.

Results under Kerr and Hughton were impressive, with just four defeats in 33 games and only one loss in a competitive game, but Ireland still finished fourth in the qualifying group table, behind France, Switzerland and Israel.

"It's a tough group that Ireland have now but the team have had a good start and could get there under Mr Trapattoni. When the group was drawn up I always felt there was at least a chance for second place for Ireland, Italy were going to be favourites to win the group, but Ireland will really challenge them, especially over the next two games," said Hughton

"The team has excelled, especially as the manager hasn't had his full pick of players in some games, key people like Steve Finnan have been missing, so when you take that into account I think Trapattoni has done very well."

Given and McGeady will be fit says Tardelli

Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli has played down injury concerns surrounding Shay Given and Aiden McGeady.

The Manchester City keeper and Celtic winger received treatment at their clubs on Monday ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria.

"I'm sure they will be available for the next training," said Tardelli.

Given has a shoulder problem while McGeady picked up a knock in Celtic's game against Dundee United on Sunday.

However, both players are expected to link up with the Republic squad on Tuesday.

Full-back Steve Finnan pulled out of the Irish squad last week because of a hamstring injury.

Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov will miss Saturday's World Cup qualifier because of an ankle injury.

The Manchester United forward sustained the injury during the 2-0 defeat by Fulham in the Premier League.

Ireland take on Group Eight leaders Italy in Bari four days after the Bulgaria game.

The Italians edge out Giovanni Trapattoni's team by goal difference with both teams locked on 10 points after four games.

The Football Association of Ireland are having to consider making new travel arrangements for the Republic squad's trip to Bari.

Airports in Ireland are expected to be affected by a nationwide strike on Monday - the day that the squad are scheduled to travel to Italy.

The possibility of travelling on Sunday or delaying the departure to Tuesday is being examined.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Berbatov out of Ireland v Bulgaria qualifier

Bulgaria captain Dimitar Berbatov will miss Bulgaria's Group 8 world cup qualifier against Ireland on the 28th of March after suffering an ankle knock. The injury came during Manchester United clash with Fulham on Saturday afternoon.

"Dimitar's got a good crack on his ankle. There's some swelling there. We'll have a look in the morning. Bulgaria will have to miss Dimitar Berbatov," Manchester United Assistant Manager Mike Phelan told the BBC.

The Bularian football team doctor has ruled out any chance of Berbatov joining the squad for the Ireland clash.

“In no way can this happen. The injury will stop him from playing football for at least two weeks. Most probably this is about his old ankle problems, which have aggravated despite the measures that have been taken,” Mihail Ilev told the Bulgarian National TV channel.

The Bulgarians' new manager, Stanimir Stoilov, is facing an uphill battle as he will also be without Manchester City winger Martin Petrov, who is still recovering from a surgery.

Stoilov is yet to announce Berbatov's replacement.

Bulgaria are third in Group Eight with three points from three matches. They will be desperate to avoid defeat in Dublin as a defeat would leave them 10 points behind Ireland, and make a massive dent in their hopes of reaching the finals in South Africa.

Bulgaria are up against Ireland on 28 March at Croke Park and Cyprus four days later.

Bayern Munich eye up McGeady move

Bayern Munich could be set to make a move for Aiden McGeady following a fact-finding mission on the Celtic winger.

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni claims he was asked to give his assessment of McGeady by the German outfit.

The Italian met Bayern representatives at Chelsea's 1-0 win over Manchester City last week, where the discussion took place.

Trapattoni told the Scottish Daily Mail: "They asked me what I think about McGeady because they have followed him.

"They wanted to know my opinion and I said McGeady is one of our most important players."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kevin Doyle looks for Irish Rugby inspiration

Ireland striker Kevin Doyle is firmly backing his countrymen to achieve rugby success this weekend, and as a result pile the pressure on the country’s football side.

The Ireland rugby team go in search of an RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam when they take on Wales in Cardiff tomorrow, an outcome Doyle sees them winning and one he hopes can inspire the country’s footballers to their own successes in World Cup qualifying Group Eight over the next two weeks.

Doyle and his team-mates face a stiff double-header at home to Bulgaria and away to Italy in just over a weeks’ time and the Reading forward hopes that any success that the rugby men get can be passed on to their fellow players in green.

Contemplating a Grand Slam, Doyle said: “It really does inspire the country, puts everybody in a good mood and gives everyone a reason to be happy and celebrate.

“If we can win The Grand Slam then hopefully our lads can go on and finish the year on a high.

“It puts the pressure on us because lots of Irish people have been successful over the past year and if the rugby lads go and do it, that will really show us the way and give us some inspiration.

“I think the rugby boys will do it – it’s going to be close. I’m good mates with Gordon D’Arcy and bump into him now and then. He’s done really well and I saw his try in his first game back, so I’ll send him a good luck message.”

As for the task facing Ireland’s most recent Player of the Year Doyle and his footballing cohorts, the promotion-chasing goal-getter added: “If we can go into the Bulgaria game confident and get a good result, it will spur us on and set up the group nicely.

“But it won’t be easy. Bulgaria have been more successful than us over the past 10 years and they’ve got some very good players. It will be our hardest game so far and I would imagine a good test.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Whelan backs Kelly for Stoke success

Stoke City’s Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan is backing his international team-mate Stephen Kelly to make an impact at the Britannia Stadium.

Kelly joined City on loan from Birmingham at the end of January, but hasn’t played since making his debut in the 2-0 defeat at Sunderland on February 7.

Both Kelly and club captain Andy Griffin have been kept out of the side by the impressive form of Andy Wilkinson at right-back.

But Whelan, who has known Kelly since their days playing youth football in Dublin, says the former Tottenham defender will let no one down if called upon.

He added: “I am sure once he is given the chance, Stoke fans will see what he can do.

“He’s a very good defender, but probably more of an attacking right-back. I am sure he will do very well.”

Whelan is hoping to take a huge step closer to Premier League survival, and the World Cup finals, over the next 17 days after he and Kelly were picked in the Republic of Ireland squad for the games at home to Bulgaria on March 28 and away to Italy on April 1.

Those games are sandwiched by Stoke’s home game with second-bottom Middlesbrough at the Britannia on Saturday and their trip to basement club West Brom on April 4.

Whelan intends to head to Ireland with Stoke out of the bottom three... and believes
City have an advantage over Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough.

He said: “They have been in the Premier League for a long time and maybe nobody expected them to be down there at the start of the season.

“They are under a lot more pressure than us because everyone expected us to go straight back down.

“But it will be a tough game. They will be fighting for their lives, and so will we.”

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni picked Whelan when the midfielder couldn’t get into the Stoke side in the first half of the season.

Whelan believes that helped him win his place back at Stoke, but doesn’t believe he could stay in the Ireland side in the long term unless he was also playing well for his club.

He said: “He (Trapattoni) has seen something in me and hopefully I have been putting performances in.

“The more games you play, the better you feel in terms of confidence and also match fitness. That helped me because, at the start of the season, I wasn’t playing as many games as I would have liked to at Stoke.

“But if I am not playing well for Stoke then I don’t think I have a chance with Ireland.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Alex Ferguson praise for John O'Shea

Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson has praised the performance's of John O'Shea during this season's campaign.

The Waterford born Ireland international has played in numerous roles for United this season which has earned him an almost regular start in the team over the course of the season so far.

"I feel blessed that we have players like John O'Shea, who has stepped in to play out of his skin," Fergie has said.

"John has thrived on playing regularly and I'm sure that if I asked him to play at centre-forward he would get us a goal.

"It's great to have such adaptable players and it's one of our strengths as we enter the last lap of the title race.

"The attitude of the players has been marvellous, especially when it comes to the business of being left out - there have been no dummies flying out of the pram.

"I hate telling a player that, although he has perhaps just delivered a top-class performance, I will not be using him in the next match.

"It's not nice, but it helps that the players understand."

O'Dea contemplating Celtic future

Celtic and Ireland defender Darren O'Dea admits he may leave Celtic if he cannot maintain his first-team spot.

The 22-year-old, who scored Celtic's opener in Sunday's Co-operative Insurance Cup final win over Rangers, almost joined Burnley in January.

"I'd rather be playing somewhere else than not playing at all," he told BBC Radio Scotland.

"But in an ideal world I'd be at Celtic playing week in, week out and playing in the Champions League every year."

Normally a central defender, O'Dea has featured at left-back in recent matches and his performances have earned him a call-up to the Republic of Ireland squad.

"At the moment, I've managed to put a few games together and hopefully I can stay in the team," he added.

"If I was to play with Celtic week in, week out, I don't see any other club where I'd rather be.

"I've got the shirt and I'm lucky enough to have it so I'll be doing everything in my power to keep it and I'm not thinking about anything else but playing at the moment."

O'Dea insists his desire to pursue a proposed loan move to Turf Moor was purely motivated by the need to be playing regularly.

"At the time I was probably the most desperate man in the planet to get out of the club to be honest and it was literally just a footballing thing," said O'Dea. "I needed to play. Of course, I want to play international football, it's a massive thing but my club football needs to be right"

"But if I ever had a thought that I'd be playing games now with Celtic, there is nowhere else I'd rather be so as luck was, I stayed and I'm delighted I did now."

The signing of Glenn Loovens last summer further restricted O'Dea's first-team chances with captain Stephen McManus usually partnered in central defence by Gary Caldwell.

"I don't think you'll ever play for Celtic or a big team just because there's no-one else there," added O'Dea.

"There's always going to be top players ahead of you and behind you so it's a case of just me being good enough, rather than hoping someone else isn't good enough.

"You always have to expect players to be coming in and out at a club like Celtic."

Ireland take on Bulgaria in a World Cup qualifier at the end of March and Under-21 international O'Dea is eager to further establish himself at club level in order to work his way into Giovanni Trapattoni's side.

He said: "Of course, I want to play international football, it's a massive thing but my club football needs to be right.

"Just now, it's a lot better than it was a few weeks ago but I'm not taking anything for granted. I need to keep playing well and the international football will take care of itself.

"Our manager just now is a top manager so I can only learn from him."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ireland to face South Africa in September friendly

Ireland will contest two international friendlies at Thomond Park later this year after today’s announcement that Giovanni Trapattoni’s side will take on 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa in September, one month after they host Australia at the Limerick venue.

Today’s announcement by the FAI completes Ireland’s international schedule for the rest of the year. The game against South Africa will serve as further preparation ahead of their closing World Cup qualifying double-header against Italy and Montenegro at Croke Park in October.

Ireland remain undefeated in their World Cup qualifying campaign and are currently joint top of Group 8 alongside holders Italy. They have 10 points after February’s 2-1 comeback win over Georgia at GAA headquarters.

The game against South Africa on Tuesday, September 8th will be a good test for Trapattoni’s side as the Bafana-Bafana is likely to feature Premier League players such as Blackburn’s Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena plus Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar.

Ticket, kick-off time and event information regarding the match will be known closer to the time and will be made available on the FAI's website ( www.fai.ie ) and www.thomondpark.ie. Ticket prices will start from €25 for adults and an allocation will be made available to schoolboy clubs at the normal international friendly match price of €7 per ticket.

At the start of March the FAI confirmed the Australia friendly for August 12th when a little piece of history will be made as it will be the first senior soccer international to be played in Limerick.

Ireland are next in action on Saturday, March 28th when they take on Bulgaria in their qualifier at Croke Park, before they travel to Bari to face Italy the following Wednesday (April 1st).

Following that another friendly will take place on May 29th when Ireland take on Nigeria at Fulham’s home ground, Craven Cottage in London. This match takes place before Ireland’s away trip to Bulgaria in their qualifier on Saturday, June 6th. They are also due to take on Cyprus at the start of September.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ireland squad announced for Bulgaria & Italy games

Giovanni Trapattoni has named 26 players in an initial squad for the forthcoming World Cup Group 8 qualifiers, of which 23 will be selected for the matches against Bulgaria on 28 March and Italy on 1 April.

The only addition to the party announced for last month's 2-1 win over Georgia is uncapped Celtic defender Darren O'Dea, who scored for his club in their CIS League Cup final victory over arch-rivals Rangers yesterday.

Speaking after he announced the squad, the Italian coach told reporters: 'So far in this group, Bulgaria have drawn all of their three World Cup qualifying matches. I have no doubt they will be invigorated by the appointment of their new manager, Stanimir Stoilov, and they will come to Croke Park looking for a win to kick-start their World Cup qualifying campaign.'

'Bulgaria have a strong tradition of football in their country with many well known players in their squad so we are under no illusion as to the task that awaits us on 28 March. This game represents a real opportunity to open a significant gap at the top of the table in Group 8.

For the next six months we will be playing away so strong support in this last home game until October will be vital. Every point gained will be valuable in the race to qualify for South Africa.'


Shay Given, Dean Kiely, Kieren Westwood


Alex Bruce, Damien Delaney, John O'Shea, Kevin Foley, Paul McShane, Richard Dunne, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Finnan, Kevin Kilbane & Darren O'Dea.


Aiden McGeady, Damien Duff, Darron Gibson, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Liam Miller, Stephen Hunt & Andy Keogh.


Caleb Folan, Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane, Shane Long & Noel Hunt.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Irish internationals secure CIS cup for Celtic

Extra-time goals by Ireland internationals Darren O'Dea and Aiden McGeady gave Celtic a deserved Co-operative Insurance Cup final victory over rivals Rangers at Hampden Park this afternoon

After 90 tense but mediocre minutes had failed to produce a goal, the game moved in to extra-time and just a minute after the restart Dublin born O'Dea, who had not scored since Celtic beat Livingston in February 2007, leapt to head a Nakamura free-kick past Allan McGregor.

In the third minute of added time at the end, Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot was red-carded by referee Dougie McDonald for denying McGeady a clear goalscoring opportunity and the Ireland international winger scored from the spot.

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan had sprung a surprise by giving a first Old Firm start to Loovens, with Gary Caldwell moving forward into midfield and misfiring strikers Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Georgios Samaras being left on the bench.

It looked like it was going to be a midfield war of attrition, with Rangers playing just Kenny Miller up front as Kris Boyd was left on the bench as expected.

Even without their moody top scorer, it was Rangers who started the brighter and Sasa Papac got in behind the Celtic defence only to be ruled offside.

But Celtic settled and began to take control to put increasing pressure on a Rangers side denied the speedy presence of in-form Madjid Bougherra, who failed a fitness test.

It took extra-time however before the two Scottish rivals could be seperated and the Irish delivered an early St. Patrick's day present to Gordon Strachan and the ten of thousand of hoops fans in Hampden Park today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Worthington gets it wrong, again!

The Northern Ireland football manager Nigel Worthington has yet again shown his inability to grasp the concept of ‘being Irish and representing Ireland’, when questioned about FIFA and Sepp Blatter’s continued support for Irish players from the North of Ireland representing and playing for Giovanni Trapattoni’s all-island international team.

He also failed to see the contradictions and inconsistencies in his own, and his associations’ constant gripe of investing money and coaching hours in players who decide to represent Ireland, rather than the Belfast based team.

The IFA are actively targeting players from outside the North and have recently been bombarding training academies and English lower league clubs with letters trying to persuade anyone to come and play for their team. Worthington’s comments from the recent press conference when he said "It is important that no-one can come in and pinch our best players” seem quite laughable considering their own current policy.

The interesting part of the whole eligibility issue is the decision of Worthington and his management team to actively beg and poach young English Internationals from under the noses of the English Football Association, even though the players have already represented England at under 17 and under 19 level. And it made Worthington's recent comments sound all the more bizarre, He said "so from our own point of view we have to make sure that when we invest in young talent and put a lot of coaching hours into it, they are available to play for their own country".

No complaints about the funding and training hours spent by English youth coaches on players like Oliver Norwood or Chris Stokes, who are being actively targeted by the IFA. Yet Mr Worthington and his employers complain about born and bred Irishmen playing for Ireland !!!!

And the IFA stance on eligibility has taken a further twist recently with their support of Foreign-born players becoming eligible to play for Northern Ireland eventhough the players would have zero blood ties to the North.

Nigel Worthington still seems unable to fathom or accept the fact that for a large proportion of the footballing public in the Northern part of the island, their international allegiance always has, and always will lie with Trapattoni’s Ireland and not Worthington’s Belfast based team.

And the outworking of this is naturally that players Like Darron Gibson, Marc Wilson and others in the past, and the future, will look to represent the team they grew up following and supporting. And this is best represented by Antrim born Ireland under 21 international Marc Wilson who said recently:

"I think everybody has their own personal reasons for wanting to play for the Republic or the North. I grew up supporting the Republic so it was a comfortable decision for me."

It’s quite simple really.

Perhaps someone could explain to Nigel Worthington that for many thousands of football fans in the North of Ireland the concept of ‘representing or supporting your country’ is more to do with cheering on Giovanni Trapattoni's Boys In Green and little to do with a visit to Windsor Park.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Zola keen to see Dixon perform

West Ham's young Irish striker Terry Dixon is close to making a full recovery from injury and is pushing for a first-team place.

The Ireland under 21 international striker has had a horrendous string of injuries which looked as though they were going to bring a premature halt to his career after Spurs allowed him to leave White Hart Lane after a string of knee problems.

West Ham took a gamble and after a trial period he was offered a three-year deal last month and now Gianfranco Zola is keen to see what he can do.

"Everybody keeps talking about Terry Dixon but I have not seen him play yet," Zola told the East London Press. "Hopefully soon he will be training with me so I will try to have an idea about him as a footballer.

"They told me he was quite a talent and I'm really curious. This is a good opportunity for him. I think this club has been very good to him and I want to see how he takes the opportunity.

"A big satisfaction would be to see him have some success because he was ruled out from the game."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ireland continue to climb in FIFA rankings

Ireland have jumped three places to 26th in the latest FIFA world rankings released today.

European champions Spain remain top of the rankings, followed by Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Brazil.

Ireland’s consistent rise in the FIFA rankings over the last six months are a reflection of the impressive start by Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni which see’s his Ireland team sitting joint top of Group eight with World Champions Italy.

1 Spain 1666 0 -27
2 Germany 1366 0 -37
3 Netherlands 1317 0 -40
4 Italy 1284 0 -34
5 Brazil 1260 0 12
6 Argentina 1219 0 38
7 Croatia 1169 0 -6
8 Russia 1128 1 9
9 England 1083 -1 -53
10 Portugal 1025 2 5
11 Turkey 1009 -1 -31
12 France 1004 -1 -22
13 Czech Republic 998 -1 -22
14 Ukraine 927 0 -5
15 Paraguay 908 0 -15
16 Cameroon 900 0 0
17 USA 896 3 38
18 Israel 888 0 11
19 Greece 863 0 -1
20 Romania 849 -3 -31
21 Uruguay 836 1 -13
22 Switzerland 831 -1 -26
23 Mexico 784 1 -7
24 Nigeria 783 -1 -44
25 Sweden 782 0 2
26 Ireland 773 3 26
27 Bulgaria 756 -1 -16
28 Scotland 755 4 16
29 Poland 747 -1 -7
30 Chile

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Ireland 2009-2010 away kit preview

Click the picture for large view

Spurs eye up McGeady swoop

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is preparing a £7 million summer swoop for Celtic and Ireland winger Aiden McGeady, it has been claimed.

Reports today suggest the Spurs boss made an inquiry about McGeady's availability through a third party in the January transfer window and is set to follow that up with a bid at the end of the season.

Redknapp has always been a big admirer of the Ireland international winger and has had him watched several times.

And he plans to travel north this weekend to watch the player in action in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final against Rangers.

McGeady, 22, has had a fairly turbulent season at Celtic Park and was suspended for two weeks by Gordon Strachan following a dressing room bust up with his boss. The relationship between McGeady Strachan has always been strained and some have suggested that the Celtic boss simply dislikes the player and would be happy to see him leave.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stokes looks to put troubled past behind him

Crystal Palace’s latest signing Anthony Stokes has vowed to put his past reputation behind him and move on with his career.

The Ireland youngster, who is on loan from Sunderland, has had a well documented past where his behaviour off the field has grabbed the headlines instead of his displays on it.

However, Stokes has put his misdemeanours down to immaturity when he first moved north from Arsenal.

He said: “I was only 18 when I went there and now I’m coming up to my 21st birthday, so I just think I have matured with age.

“Some of the decisions I made were stupid, but I have learnt from them and hopefully I can get my head together now.

“I think it is all a learning curve. At 18 I was playing for Ireland and involved in the squad and playing in the Premiership.

“This was all a good experience, so I don’t think it was wasted time and now hopefully I can learn from that and move on with my career.”

The striker has already proved his determination to impress at Selhurst by scoring a wonderful equaliser on his full debut to help the Eagles on their way to a 2-1 victory over play-off hopefuls Preston on Saturday.

He added: “I am delighted with the goal, but more importantly that we got the result.

“I was glad because they either end up in row Z or go into the back of the net and I’m just delighted today it went in. I came here to play games, score a few goals and help Crystal Palace as much as I can.”

One man who will be keeping a close eye on Stokes’ behaviour is Eagles boss Neil Warnock.

The manager is known for his no nonsense approach and although Stokes hasn’t had any run-ins with him so far, he has seen enough to know about his temperament.

He said: “I haven’t really seen him much. I have only spoken to him two or three times and had a few training sessions and games, but he seems like a livewire, so it should be interesting.”
Although only initially joining on loan, Stokes has not ruled out a permanent move in the future.

Asked about his future and the possibility of staying past his loan, he said: “I don’t really know to be honest with you.

“This came up earlier in the week and I just wanted the opportunity to play a few games.

“Reserve football is good, but I wanted to play at a higher level. I’m just glad to have the opportunity and hopefully I can carry on from here.

Despite being unclear about his own future, Stokes is hopeful Crystal Palace’s destination come the end of the season will be in the play-off places.

He added: “There is always a few teams that put a good run together.

“We put in a good performance and a good shift, which I think paid off for us today. “If we keep playing the way we are, and create chances like we did today, then there is no reason why we can’t try and push on.

“I want to keep playing week in week out, scoring goals and do what I can for Crystal Palace while I’m here.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Motherwell boss: Sheridan can be forward sensation

History might be repeating itself for Mark McGhee as he cultivates the career of a gifted Irish rookie he's adamant has all the raw materials to become a strike sensation.

The Motherwell boss is the perfect choice to enhance loan star Cillian Sheridan's development - 10 years after being mesmerised by another young Irishman destined for the top.

McGhee rates Richard Sadlier the most talented player he has ever worked with.

Having coached the likes of Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill, that's quite a compliment.

Sadlier was an Irish international striker McGhee had at Millwall before his career was tragically cut short by injury.

At youth level he partnered Keane for Ireland and was to be included in Mick McCarthy's squad for the 2002 World Cup - until a hip problem forced him to quit.

Incredibly, Sadlier and Sheridan both played for Belvedere Boys Club in Dublin a decade apart.

Now McGhee is so impressed by on-loan Hoops hitkid Cillian he's compared him to his former protege - and reckons the 20-year-old can enjoy the top-level career denied to his countryman.

Mark said: "A hip injury finished Richard.

But before anyone really knew about that we'd had a bid of £7million for him.

"Potentially, he was the best player I've ever worked with. He was 6ft 5in, quick and had a Thierry Henry-like touch.

"He could finish, was brave, ambitious - he had everything. I don't know if Cillian will be as good as Sadlier might have been but I see so much of him in Richard.

"Sheridan excites me.

With his stature he'll become a traditional No.9. He's big and mobile - too good a player, just to play off someone.

"I see him as a future Celtic No.9. There was no suggestion of Cillian staying here longer than the end of May - Gordon Strachan wants him back.

"I see him emerging into a player the Republic of Ireland will benefit from and he'll have a good career. Getting a run of games here will bring him on more than being a sub at Celtic.

"Gordon has sacrificed Cillian now but balanced that with knowing he'll go back there next season as a serious contender."

Sheridan bagged his first goal for Well last weekend against Inverness, and McGhee is delighted with his early impact.

The Fir Park gaffer revealed the youngster - who turned his back on a career in Gaelic and Australian Rules Football - was his top target when leading scorer Chris Porter left for Derby.

McGhee said: "Porter lacked aggression when he came here but the SPL brought that out of him.

"He got stronger and Cillian also has to become more physical. He has work to do in the gym and could carry another three quarters of a stone.

"But he's only 20. He'll mature in the next couple of years and by 23 you'll see a change - he'll emerge as a real beast. At the moment he's still a bit floppy. "He's an excellent finisher and hits the ball so hard.

"Some players frustrate me by not striking the ball powerfully but Cillian certainly gives it a skelps."

McGhee believes if his side can score 25 goals before the end of the campaign they will climb to fourth place in the SPL and seal Europa League qualification.

That's why he's started an incentive scheme that has provided a bit of fun among his squad.

He said: "I've set them all goal targets and put up a chart. The strikers have a set amount to hit, same with midfielders, the full-backs have to get a couple and it's one between the others!

"I've told them we need 25 goals to finish fourth. If we hit that target we won't be far off. They get a sticker if they score, it's a bit of fun and an incentive that works."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Italian boss views Ireland as biggest threat

Italian manager Marcello Lippi is preparing himself for a tough game against Ireland when the sides meet in a World Cup qualifier in Bari on April 1st. Lippi, who was in Dublin last month to watch Ireland’s 2-1 qualifier win against Georgia, is coming round to the view that Ireland, coached by his old rival, Giovanni Trapattoni, may well represent the biggest obstacle on the Italian road to South Africa.

The Ireland I saw in Dublin was a team full of enthusiasm. They conceded a goal in the opening minute and then they really risked it because just a few seconds before the Irish equaliser, the Georgians hit the post and scored an offside goal.

“Basically, in the space of seconds, Ireland went from being almost 0-2 down to equalising. But that’s football now, you can lose against any team these days. In the end, the real Ireland emerged, that is a team which has some very good players, guys like (Aiden) McGeady and (Damien) Duff on the flanks. This is a side full of physically strong players, like the centre forward (Kevin) Doyle. All in all, this is a good side that merits plenty of respect.”

Asked by The Irish Times if he had noticed the “hand” of his erstwhile colleague Trapattoni at work, Lippi replied: “You can see the hand, the foot and the head of Il Trap at work in this side.”

Lippi argues the qualifier against Ireland comes at a psychologically delicate moment of the season when at club and country level, results may prove to have long-term implications: “This is an important month not just for Italian football but for all European football. We’re now at the cup tie stage of the Champions League, an elimination and March can mean that for some clubs the whole season has been a total failure. And right in the middle of this come these World Cup qualifiers.”

Win, lose or draw against Ireland, Lippi takes great pride in the fact an Italian colleague will be sitting in the manager’s seat of the opposing team. Asked about the current standing of Italian football, he replied: “For so long, the Anglo-Saxon world has looked down its nose at Italian football and tended to jeer us and yet, just look, the current coach of England is an Italian, while you have Trapattoni in Ireland. I think that speaks for itself and answers your question.”

Looking forward to the Ireland game, Lippi said it was much too early to speculate about his ideal lineout for the Bari encounter for the good reason that the match was still one month away and that before meeting Ireland, Italy first have a difficult away game against Montenegro in Podgorica.

Lippi, who led Italy to World Cup triumph in Germany three years ago, confirmed yesterday he was glad to be back at the helm of the Italian side, having taken over from Roberto Donadoni immediately after last summer’s European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland. Looking back on his decision to resign as Italy coach immediately after the Germany World Cup, he said that within one month of giving up the job, he realised he had made a huge mistake. Life without football was just too boring.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shane Long rewards manager's faith

Supersub Shane Long rewarded the Reading manager's faith with a crucial late winner at Sheffield Wednesday.

Hillsborough hero Long got the nod ahead of Leroy Lita on Tuesday night and the Irish youngster stepped off the bench to fired home in the 81st minute to complete a stunning fightback by Steve Coppell's men.

It was Reading's first away win since they turned over Birmingham City 3-1 at St Andrew's on December 20 and their first of any kind in five matches.

And Royals fans will be hoping this could be the result that will also reignite their flagging promotion campaign after weeks of disappointment.

Trailing to Sean McAllister's strike in first-half injury time, the visitors stormed back after the break and grabbed the cricual equaliser through Kevin Doyle before Long netted his fuorth of the season to secured the points and the headlines with the clock ticking down.

"Shane is a good player and for a couple of years now we have wanted to give him a real run in the team.

"But we're blessed with some good forwards and Shane is the best impact substitute I've got.

"He won't be happy to hear me say that, but we know something is going to happen when he comes on.

"Was it a fair result? I really don't know. It was very competitive and it could have gone either way. But we just edged it at the final whistle."

With just one point from three home games in February, Coppell was glad to see the back of a `disastrous' month that ended with defeats to Bristol City and struggling Nottingham Forest.

After changing his side against Forest on Saturday, he tinkered with his squad again by handing Jay Tabb his full league debut in place of Jimmy Kebe and naming Long on the bench instead of Lita.

But Royals boss knew better than to expect an easy game against a Wednesday side determied to avenge their 6-0 hammering at the Madejski Stadium earlier in the season.

The Owls have improved since then and boss Brian Laws made just the one change to the side which turned over Burnley 4-2 away from home at the weekend with captain Richard Wood back to replace Richard Hinds.

However, the visitors made their intentions clear from the off with Marek Matejovsky pulling the strings as the rain lashed down on Hillsborough.

It was not a night for goalkeepers, but Adam Federici was alert to snuff out the danger with Marcus Tudgay bearing down and Michael Gray sent a 25-yard free-kick whistling inches wide of the post as the Owls fought for early supremacy.

Despite the recent clump, Coppell's men were full of running and they nearly broke the deadlock in the 15th minute when ex-Sheffield United left-back Chris Armstrong skipped past two defenders but dragged his shot wide.

And eight minutes later they went closer again when Stephen Hunt's looping free-kick stuck the bar after a faint touch from Owls keeper Lee Grant.

Tabb then made a strong run to the edge of the box but his shot lacked power and frustrations began to creep in as the chances went begging.

No-one will have felt it more than Noel Hunt who went crashing to the ground in the box following a challenge from Mark Beevers. But referee Andy Hall deemed it a dive and booked the distraught Irishman.

And if that wasn't enough to make Coppell's blood boil, Wednesday then took a shock lead in first-half injury time.

The hosts lumped a hopeful ball into the area which Michael Duberry missed. Leon Clarke showed great control to kill the ball and lay it off to the on-rushing Sean McAlister who smashed it past Federici from 10 yards out.

It was a hammer blow for Coppell's men and Royals' boss reacted immediately by replacing the injured Tabb with Kebe at half-time.

And the move paid off when the visitors got back on level terms in the 56th minute after a sustained spell of pressure.

Grant made a sensational one-handed save to tip Rosenior's audacious volley around the post. Wednesday failed to clear the first corner and when Matejovsky whipped in a second the ball was flicked on to Doyle who nodded it in at the back post for his first goal since the 4-0 win over Watford on January 9.

More importantly, it also ended his side's worrying goal drought and it was the first scored by a Reading player in a whopping 598 minutes of action.

The relief was almost palpable as Reading searched for a winner and Duberry went close with a bullet header from Stephen Hunt's corner.

But the few hundred travelling fans were on the edge of their seats in the 80th minute when Clarke fired past Federici, only for the linesman to correctly rule it out for a shove on Alex Pearce.

And how it came back to haunt them as within a minute Royals got their winner.

Wednesday sub James O'Connor lost the ball in midfield to a strong Duberry challenge, Stephen Hunt burst forward then found Long lurking on the right,

The Republic of Ireland striker still had plenty to do but gave Grant no chance by drilling the ball high into the net from a tight angle to send Reading fans in front of him into a frenzy.

Wednesday threw the kitchen sink at Royals in a frantic finish and Federici denied his opposite number Grant with a tremendous save from virtually the last kick of the game.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gibson & O'Shea to give Trapattoni the inside scoop of Berbatov

Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson hopes to give manager Giovanni Trapattoni the inside scoop on fellow Manchester United star Dimitar Berbatov, ahead of the World Cup Qualifier against Bulgaria on March 28th.

Gibson and fellow Ireland star John O’Shea come up against their clubmate in the qualifier knowing that three points from the game will go some way to cementing their hopes of a play-off place in Group Eight.

“I am sure John O’Shea and I will give the manager tips on how to handle Berbatov,” he said.

“John will probably be playing centre-half against Bulgaria, so he will have a really good idea of what he is up against.

“He [Berbatov] is a world-class player, everyone knows what he can do and I have seen first-hand just what he is capable of. It is going to be great coming up against him. It is always good to come up against your team-mates, and hopefully we can win.”

Gibson played in the United side that won the Carling Cup on penalties against Tottenham on Sunday, and is delighted that he is now starting to get regular game time for the Premier League champions.

“My chances have come this season, and I have taken them as well, so I am delighted," he continued.

“It was absolutely brilliant to be out there, and although it was nerve-wracking to watch the penalty shoot-out, I thought that we deserved to win.

“I never worried that it was not going to happen for me United because I never really had a proper go at it. If it had not happened to me this season then perhaps I would have been worried.”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sepp Blatter: Eligibility issue sorted

FIFA President Sepp Blatter seems to have finally 'Put To Bed' any prospect of the Football authorities in the North blocking prospective young international footballers from the North of Ireland, from representing Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland on the international stage.

President Blatter, who was in Newcastle, County Down for an International Football Association board meeting, was unequivocal in his belief that players from the North are clearly eligible to play for Ireland and he backed the FAI’s stance that it is working within FIFA’s rules when selecting players from throughout the Island of Ireland and he stated yesterday “ We will propose that any player born in the North can play for the South too”

Blatter revealed that FIFA’s legal committee will inform the board later this month that any player born on the island of Ireland will continue to be free to represent Ireland at international level.

As revealed by Blatter yesterday:

“As the Legal Committee understands it, the situation is such that all Northern Irish footballers could opt to play for both teams, given that they have a birthright to an Irish passport. Evidently, the same is not applicable to the footballers of the Republic, who do not have such a claim”.

The whole saga has reached farcical proportions at times during the last number of years with the North’s international manager Nigel Worthington personally ringing players and basically offering senior caps if players returned to play for his team.

The IFA are likely to react with anger over FIFA’s decision, even though they have consistently failed to acknowledge, and ignore the fact that, for a large proportion of football supporters in the North, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland always have, and always will be their No.1 international choice.

The natural knock-on effect of this support is that young prospective internationals growing up in the North, will want to play for the team who they have grown up supporting and following, as was the case For Co. Antrim Ireland u21 international Marc Wilson.

The hypocrisy of the IFA stance on eligibility is best represented by their German born goalkeeper Maik Taylor, who despite have no parental or grandparent linkage to the team, has represented the North on over seventy occasions during the last ten years.

And in more recent times the North’s Under 21 manager Steve Beaglenhole has spoken of his confidence in attracting England under 19 internationals Chris Stokes and Oliver Norwood into his set-up.

This is clearly a common sense decision from FIFA and will further solidify the link between Trapattoni’s Ireland and a large section of the footballing public North of the border.

The last word is best left to Portsmouth’s County Antrim born midfielder Marc Wilson, who said in a recent article "I think everybody has their own personal reasons for wanting to play for the Republic or the North. I grew up supporting the Republic so it was a comfortable decision for me."

Hunt bored with Stephen Ireland speculation

Stephen Hunt has said that there would be 'a riot' if Stephen Ireland only decided to return to the Republic Of Ireland set-up for the World Cup Finals.

Reading star Hunt is clearly unimpressed with the Manchester City midfielder, who has not played for his country since concocting a story about the death of his grandmother in 2007.

On the subject of whether Ireland would return for a possible appearance in the Finals, Hunt told the Sunday Independent: "I'm sure Stephen Ireland wouldn't do that, you'd want to be very sure of yourself to do that.

"I don't think it would be healthy, that wouldn't go down well but then again we want the best players in the squad."

Hunt admits is getting bored with the constant speculation about the Manchester City midfielder.

"I think it's up to one man to come out and clarify the situation, to give someone an indication, whether it's that he'll play next year or in three games' time.

"But it seems like Stephen is just sitting there and not helping anyone. He needs to clarify it and ease the pressure so we know what he's going to do. Then it's up to the manager to pick him."