Let us entertain you says Staunton

February 28, 2006

Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton is demanding his players light up Lansdowne Road tomorrow to offer hope of a bright future.

Staunton begins his reign with a friendly against Sweden, one of the sides in England's World Cup group in Germany this summer.

The Irish will not be present this summer after failing to qualify under former manager Brian Kerr.

Even four months on, and in the wake of Staunton's appointment last month, the pain at missing out is still being felt.

In a positive move, though, Staunton has named a team full of pace and youth, with not one player over 30 and at an average of just under 25.

If this is the way ahead, and a statement of intent from Staunton, then it bodes well.

Although ultimately he will be judged on results, against Sweden the performance will take priority.

'I've said before, I'm a winner,' said Staunton.

'But tomorrow I want to see my players excite me and the fans, and give them something to look forward to.

'We're all very down at not qualifying for Germany, but if the lads produce tomorrow what I've seen in training over the last two days, and do what we all know they can do, then everybody will get a lift.

'That's what I'm looking for, and while results are obviously important, they are more important in the competitive games.'

Reading striker Kevin Doyle and Bolton right-back Joey O'Brien will make their debuts, yet it is the midfield that is of intrigue.

In reading out his line-up, Staunton named Sunderland striker Stephen Elliott ahead of Steven Reid, John O'Shea and Damien Duff, with the suggestion being he will play right wing rather than in attack.

However, such a side affords Staunton the flexibility he craves at international level, and one he feels is vital if Ireland are to qualify for the 2008 European Championships.

Ireland will likely start out 4-4-2, yet with Elliott they can go 4-3-3, and as O'Brien can also play midfield, there is the option of 3-5-2.

It is a case of being as imaginative as possible because with one, and possibly two more friendlies in May, and another in August against Holland, Staunton has few matches to experiment before the first qualifying match in Germany on September 2.

'We will be very flexible,' confirmed Staunton.

'We've enough bright players who are able to express themselves, and that's what I want to see. I want them to enjoy it.

'But the way I see it I've two to three games to give as many people a few caps, or further experience before we go into the campaign.

'We've six players here with no experience whatsoever, so we will be trying out different things and different systems.

'It means when we start the qualifiers we know we can change to give us an advantage.'

Crucial to Staunton's plans is the new central midfield partnership of Reid and O'Shea, in particular with Roy Keane and Matt Holland now retired from international football.

The older heads of Kevin Kilbane and Graham Kavanagh appear to have made way for a more dynamic duo, notably with O'Shea moving up the field as the majority of his 30 caps have been at left-back.

'I've always seen John in that midfield role,' asserted Staunton.

'As for Steven Reid, he has come on in leaps and bounds. He has been outstanding this year, with every attribute going, and it's a great opportunity for him.'

For debutants Doyle and O'Brien this is also a chance to make their mark, the former shaking off a groin strain to line up in attack alongside new captain Robbie Keane.

'I think Kevin thought he was going to be on the bench,' added Staunton, without Steve Finnan after he returned to Liverpool with a neck injury.

'But he has done fantastically this season at Reading. It's a chance for him to move up to the next level, and I think he can handle it.

'Joey I've seen play a few times this season. I've spoken to [Bolton manager] Sam Allardyce, and he is confident he is ready for it.

'I was going to play him anyway, even if Steve [Finnan] had been fit.'