THERE ARE PLENTY of familiar faces in Malahide this week, even if an Ireland training camp is the last place you would have expected to see some of them in recent years.
Yesterday five more joined the list, temporarily at least.
Noel King’s decision to call in a handful of Airtricity League players to help out with yesterday’s training session was a move few people expected, but this was not a big show of independence or even an attempt to curry favour within the domestic game.
Instead the five extra men — Dundalk quartet Richie Towell, Kurtis Byrne, Andy Boyle and John Sullivan, and Shamrock Rovers’ David Elebert — allowed Ireland’s interim manager to cast a watchful eye over a full-pitch 11v11 training match, a sight rarely seen in Gannon Park.
It was the latest phase in his self-declared mission to find a team and tactics that can really put it up to Germany in Friday night’s World Cup qualifier.
That is why he recalled ‘the Exiles’, Andy Reid, Darron Gibson, Anthony Stokes and Kevin Doyle. That is why on Monday he took a much more hands-on approach than his predecessor, interrupting the play to reiterate his tactical instructions.
Yesterday’s novel routine helped solve another part of the puzzle, another piece of the jigsaw.
Afterwards King admitted that he still does not know what his starting 11 will be or even what formation they will use, although all of the signs yesterday pointed to a five-man midfield to counter Germany’s expected dominance of possession.
“The numbers are very fancy,” King joked when asked if he is leaning towards a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1.
“When you don’t have the ball and players go into areas that they’re not supposed to be in, you have to deal with that and you have to manage that. It’s just starting positions that we’re really working.
“You have to defend and you have to attack and you have to try and counter and present counters. That’s the game. That’s what we’ve been preparing for all week.”
Richie Towell, Andy Boyle and Kurtis Byrne in Malahide yesterday (INPHO/Donall Farmer)
Record goalscorer Robbie Keane trained for the first time yesterday, adding some much-needed experience to a squad which will be missing John O’Shea, Richard Dunne and their combined 171 caps to suspension on Friday night.
Keane can play as a lone striker if that is what’s required, King stressed, as can Anthony Stokes and Kevin Doyle.
Changing the formation is a bit of a risk but against a German side this good, what isn’t?
“Of course there’s a huge concern but you have to play some formation and you’ll be concerned about everything you do.
“At the same time you have to work with a belief, work with a strategy that you think will get you a result. That’s what we’re doing.
At the moment they’re very much buying into it. There are obviously things that have to be tweaked. They have knowledge, they have great experience and I intend to use all of that for the one focus and the one aim and ambition: to try and win the game.
There are many paths to that aim, but while Trapattoni regularly referred to Chelsea’s Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich as the blueprint for the success his team could achieve, King doesn’t see any quick fix or one size fits all.
Instead Ireland will have to be prepared for what Germany throw at them — and prepared to take whatever chances come their way.
Ciaran Clark: one of those out to impress (INPHO/Donall Farmer)
“Each game is different. You don’t know how the game flows and you just have to be ready.
“If there’s an opportunity to press and go at them or if you’re forced to defend, you have to do what you have to do to try and win the game.
We’re not the strongest football nation in the world so sometimes we can’t play the game the way we want to play, but there’s a game to be fought for and there’s points to be won.
“We will do whatever we think possible, whatever we think is the right thing, to do that.”