THE MOST irritating thing about Eamon Dunphy is the number of little Dunphyites he has spawned. Since watching RTE’s most controversial pundit make a name – and a helluva lot of money – from picking holes in practically every Irish managerial policy going, a generation of know-alls have emerged.
And in Giovanni Trapattoni, they have an easy target. A conservative by nature, criticism of Trap has been relentless since he took office, firstly for the number of club games he declined to see, secondly for his tactics and thirdly for his reluctance to give new blood a chance.
This last issue was the cause of some debate last Friday when Trap named a 24-man squad to play the Czech Republic, a panel which is almost certain to bear a close resemblance to the names who will board a plane to Poland in June.
As is usual when Irish squads are named, the focus of questioning at the press conference didn’t refer to the 24 names included but instead to the ones that were missing. James McClean is flavour of the month, unsurprising given the excellence of his form for Sunderland. But before McClean, Wes Hoolahan was January’s focus point. In December the trend was to promote the cause of Anthony Pilkington. And briefly, we had Anthony Stokes’ virtues extolled – the same Anthony Stokes who is regularly ignored by Neil Lennon for Old Firm games yet given his shot against the SPL’s easy pickings. And the same Anthony Stokes who scored four goals in 61 (30 of those 61 games were as a sub) appearances in the Premier League and Championship.
You would think by now that Trap’s record as Irish manager – in two campaigns he has overseen a playoff defeat and qualification – would generate some trust.
It seems not.
While objections to his tactics and non-appearance at games are fair enough, the notion that he doesn’t give players a chance simply does not wash.
Take last week’s squad. Of the 24 players picked, 13 were given their first cap under Trap. Does this tally with the notion that he is blinded by new talent?
His reasoning behind McClean’s exclusion was logical. Firstly, the Sunderland winger’s clearance from FIFA had only arrived in the post 24 hours before he sat down to pick the squad. Secondly, he already has three left wingers – Damien Duff, Aiden McGeady and Stephen Hunt – that he both likes and trusts.
And, though he didn’t say it, he could also make this point: Of the 14 nations who qualified for this summer’s European Championships, no other country has made fewer previous appearances in the competition than Ireland.
Yet, despite an appalling soccer history, we have incredible notions about ourselves. Trap did allude to the 5-2 defeat to Cyprus, suffered under Steve Staunton, as he swatted away questions an hour into his press conference about considering a recall for Stephen Ireland. Perhaps, at that stage, he was finally making a point – ‘be grateful for what I’ve done’.
Gratitude is in short supply, of course. He’s paid well to win games – but in the main, he has drawn them.
Yet a nod to his record should allow him some slack. In 24 competitive fixtures, he has won 11, drawn 11 and lost twice. The Cypriot and San Marino debacles have been forgotten. And while the football has been anything but entertaining, the fact remains he has got us to the show, only the third Irish manager to do so. With this in mind, he’s perfectly entitled to select his own cast.