Welcome one and all
Hello. This is my first post on the ESPN Euro 2012 Blog. If you have made it this far then a big thank you (except for friends and family who have probably felt some sense of obligation due to payment of pints, cups of tea or just sheer bribery). I'm new to this whole blog thing so I suppose I'll start with a brief introduction. My name is Padraic Nugent and I will be travelling to Poland with a group of friends to follow the Irish team. I've been following the Eire for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest football memories is 'Irish' Ray Houghton's chipper against Italy in USA 94. Funnily enough I don't remember much more from Ireland in that tournament. Fast forward 8 years to the Saipan affair and it caused a major divide in our house. I was firmly in camp Keane and my dad was in Mick McCarthy's tent, pissing out, as it were. Many words like facilities, bibs, respect, car parks, r & r, take me back, traitor, fake injury, were all traded as reasons the other person was right or wrong. The country was torn, and like Keane and McCarthy, nobody could see the logic of the other person's argument. After many tense, uncertain days, when it finally became clear that Keane wasn't coming back, we finally remembered that there were actually football matches to play and we didn't do too badly in the end. And yes, I promise this is the last time I'll mention Saipan.
It has been 10 long years since we have qualified for a major tournament. There have been many near and not so near misses along the way. We are appearing in only our second European Championships. The last time we made it to the Euros was in 1988. I was 3 and have no recollection of that crazy summer in Germany. It's going to be an amazing few weeks, both in Ireland and Poland, and I have a funny feeling I won't have much of a recollection of this tournament either. If you are interested in reading about my views of the Irish team as well as getting the low down on how the Irish fans are enjoying themselves then look no further than here. My opinions might not always be conventional and maybe sometimes I will focus on matters off the pitch but at the end of the day it's just a bit of craic. Over the course of the week I will fill you in on the Irish squad, the tactics, the atmosphere in Poland as well as the odd attempt at humour.
The nitty gritty stuff
After a bit of chopping and changing, accusations of betrayal, and an earthquake things finally seem to be settling down in the Irish training camp. Hopefully.
Shay Given and John O'Shea, the main injury concerns since the squad assembled a week and a half ago, came through a training session today. It was the first time that all players took a full part in training. However, Giovanni Trapattoni suggested that there is still a cause for some concern over the condition of O'Shea's ankle injury. In the Republic of Ireland's last warm up match against Hungary next Monday evening it will up to O'Shea to prove his fitness. "For him it is still a test" said the manager earlier today. Should O'Shea fail to make the grade, the recently exiled Kevin Foley could find himself re-drafted into the squad. Seamus Coleman or Marc Wilson could also find themselves in contention should Trapattoni need some defensive cover.
It goes without saying that losing O'Shea would be a massive blow to the Irish squad. Often derided in the past campaigns for Ireland, O'Shea has been a very important figure in Trap's regime. He has matured his Irish performances under Trap, and is a calming presence in the back-line, something nobody can say for Paul McShane's more, ahem, swashbuckling style of play.
With the exception of John O'Shea, the squad seems to be in rude health. Apart from O'Shea and Given, who will be certain to play next Monday, all members of the squad have got some game time from the recent friendlies in the past week. Our human brick wall, Richard Dunne, seems to be well on the way to regaining full fitness. Having been at the last Saturday's match against Bosnia and Herzegovina I can say that the Irish team looked sharp. It was very positive performance, despite the intensity of the opposition, and there were several players who caught the eye. James McClean looked lively on the ball and this should give him a bit more confidence. After a difficult season, Kevin Doyle looked good as well. He won a lot of ball, held it up well and brought others into play. All four forwards who played (Keane, Doyle, Long, Walters) all did well and will certainly have given Trap something to mull over his post-match glass of chianti. Keane apart, the other forward position is by no means nailed down by anybody. Long is making a strong case for inclusion but I fancy Trap to stick with Kevin Doyle for our opening match on June 10th. The real bright spark of that match was Aiden McGeady. He hit the post, set up several very good chances and crossed for the goal. He won man of the match coming on as a second half substitute. If he felt he had a point to prove he certainly proved it and has cemented his spot on one of the wings for the tournament. If he can recreate that form when it really matters he'll be one of the stars of the tournament.
On a personal note, all my Euro preparations are going according to plan. I applied to get my passport renewed the other day as it runs out at the end of July. Now, some might say that this shouldn't matter as the Euros will be well over by then, but Ukrainian immigration state that anybody entering the country must have a minimum of 6 months left on their passport from the time they leave. What's that I hear? Ireland aren't based in the Ukraine and Poland don't have this law so why worry? Well, one can never be too careful and should Ireland make it out of the group our potential quarter final will be in the Ukraine. Call me optimistic, call me foolish (I've been called worse), but should the unlikely become likely I don't want to hear Roy Keane's words echoing in my ears - Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail.