Thursday 20 October 2016

It's all sunshine for James as he gets stronger

Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

James McCarthy's freckles have almost joined together under the influence of the unfamiliar yellow orb which has been visible in the sky now for a week.

He's been sweating more often too, which is good news for everyone because it means he is now moving faster than the sedate trot or even stroll which he was reduced to in the run-up up to the friendly against Holland and then Belarus.

McCarthy's ancestry gave him physical features which don't do well under a broiling sun and while he's not quite Steve Staunton who needed an umbrella over his head while he was playing if the mercury topped 18 degrees, he wasn't entirely comfortable squinting into cameras while he did his media in the midday heat.

Not that the media minded. The idea that Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane thought that Fota Island would be the ideal preparation for potentially steamy conditions in France had seemed frankly hilarious.

They were truly blessed by the appearance of summer just as they landed in Cork, a climatic quirk which will almost certainly be replaced by Noah weather and the need for fleeces before we know it.

McCarthy's part in the preparation to date has been thin enough, other than to supply enough headlines to keep everything ticking over as we counted down towards O'Neill's deadline day.


But while the stories about his lingering and stubborn pain gave fans some drama, nobody knew the reality for McCarthy which was all about worry.

"I was worried. It seemed to not really go away for a week there and obviously I had a week before when I relaxed. I knew it was giving me a bit of pain. I came off for Everton in the last game of the season with it and I said to David Unsworth at the time that I was in pain and he took me off.," said McCarthy.

In the days that followed, McCarthy's concern turned to something stronger and with no sign of the pain disappearing, he began to think negative thoughts.

"I could feel it and I had a couple of scans on it. It was frustrating for myself, especially with this coming up, but the most important thing is getting fit and getting ready for this big tournament.

"It was my groin, hamstring, a bit of both to be honest. I had a couple of scans and not much has come back. It's just pain but I'm getting there," he said.

"I rested all week and tried to go for a run before we met up and I could feel it. I spoke to the doc here and the manager and he rested me up and since then I've just been resting, doing wee bits here and there and I could still feel it."

The good news is that gentle jogging has been replaced by something altogether more intense and so far, at least, he is not feeling any great reaction.

"In the last couple of days it's started to clear up and, hopefully, that's me back to getting fit and being involved with the team."

"All sorts of things go through your head. You're worrying about the tournament, obviously the first game, training towards the first game.

"You want to be fit, I don't want to miss training, I want to work hard before this tournament and have a right go," added McCarthy.

With fears about his fitness easing, McCarthy has allowed himself to look forward and enjoy the build-up. Four years ago, he was on the outside looking in and now he's a key player in Ireland's Euro 2016 narrative.

"I'm buzzing to be honest. Each and every one of us within the squad knows how much it means to us, our family, friends, the fans, everyone involved. It's massive, a massive tournament. The family will come over for a couple of games at least.

"The lads who were involved four years ago, they've been saying it's a massive tournament, it's a real eye-opener when you get there," he said. "I'm just delighted to be part of this squad. I'm delighted to be back training again and, hopefully, I can now kick on in the next few days and look forward to France.

Before he even got over here, he shared some friendly training ground abuse with Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku at Goodison Park.

"We were winding each other up, me, Seamus and him. There's excitement there, but first up it's Sweden and we have to look after that game and then look at Belgium.

"He's a top player, he's proved that in the Premier League. Belgium have a team full of talented players, you look at Sweden and they've got a lot of individuals and they're a good side as well and then obviously Italy.

"But we'll take it a game at a time and we won't look too far ahead."

"We're really excited about it and training is going well, being in the sun is good. It's been some weather down here and it's been a good training camp for the boys so far and I'm certainly enjoying being back involved."

McCarthy's importance to Ireland is obvious, despite the misgivings many have about his inability to take control of a game.

Even if he hasn't ever reached the heights predicted for him, he is still our best box-to-box midfielder. Like most things with this man, mention of the ongoing debate about his influence or, indeed, lack of it on Martin O'Neill's team is greeted with a shrug.

When it was put to him that his stature has grown throughout the qualifying campaign and that he was perhaps answering his critics in the best way possible, he allowed a tiny glimpse of his thinking before he slammed down the shutters..

"Before I'd been involved a lot, but it maybe takes you a bit of time to settle in and there's always people doubting you and having a go at you," he said.


That would seem to suggest that McCarthy has struggled with international football but even if it took him a long time to "settle in", at least there are signs that he is ready to push to a higher level.

With Everton in a state of flux, his best chance to make a name for himself is very obviously with Ireland.

"A lot of people have said to me that I've kicked on, but I don't look too much at any of that. I take it a game at a time. I'm just delighted to be part of this squad. We've got a great bunch of lads here and hopefully, on a personal level, I can kick on again and give it my best shot.

"Hopefully, I can kick on and have a right good go. Each and everyone of us in the squad knows how important it is to try and get out of this group."

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