With less than a week until Irish international football’s latest tournament story begins to be written, Damian Dempsey’s Rocky Road to Poland has been well played out as the excitement and sense of anticipation continues to build.
The 73 years young Italian manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, will become the oldest ever manager of a European Championship finals team when Ireland face Croatia on Sunday.
The Foley- McShane squad inclusion row kept the headline writers happy for a few days and represented a neat -if not too happy for some- throwback to the Charlton era, whilst the competent second half performance against Bosnia did nothing to dampen the sense of optimism surrounding the squad.
Trapattoni has declared that tonight’s first eleven against Hungary will likely start the initial group fixture against Croatia next Sunday, so emerging unscathed in terms of injuries will be of paramount importance tonight for the Irish team.
Aidan McGeady’s excellent outing against Bosnia has likely ensured that he will beat James McClean to the starting eleven, and indeed he has been preferred to the Derry man for tonight’s Hungarian fixture.
Ireland’s group includes current World Cup and European Champions, Spain, as well as Italy and Croatia- hence the long odds on Ireland reaching the knock out stage.
Whether it’s 3 and out for Ireland or a historic quarter final appearance will become clear by the time the full time whistle is blown in the Italian fixture on June 18th.
Personally, I think the Dutch or Germans will lift the trophy in just over a month’s time, with England also performing impressively but falling at the semi-final hurdle.
As for Ireland, it’s a case of the heart versus the head. Taking something from the Croatia match is essential and will at least ensure Irish prospects survive the Spanish match, leaving Irish fans hopeful of another glorious Meadowlands-like moment against an Italian international side once managed by Trapattoni.
Time will tell…..