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Wednesday 11 December 2019

Brady and Byrne leave McCarthy with midfield food for thought

Robbie Brady controls the ball. Photo: Sportsfile
Robbie Brady controls the ball. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack Byrne in action against Ryan Thomas

A night in Dublin when the B-Specials had to show just how special they were.

It was expected that they would be good enough to win a home friendly against a lower-ranked nation playing their first game in 18 months, but would they be special enough to go out and beat a classy European side, those old foes Denmark, in four days' time?

That's the food for thought Mick McCarthy has to dine on between now and Monday night, wondering if his midfield men from last night, especially Robbie Brady and Jack Byrne, did enough.

And when it comes to the team for Monday, McCarthy's heart may say yes to a return from exile for Brady and maybe even a competitive debut for Byrne, but his head will overrule that and he'll stick with the tried and trusted. 

Callum Robinson has played himself out of the starting XI with a couple of very poor displays, and though he did get the morale boost of a goal last night (his first at international level), he's not what the team needs on Monday.

To beat Denmark, Ireland will need craft and guile, and while the quality of the opposition has to be taken into account, Brady and Byrne showed a fair amount of those traits in this 3-1 win.

An assist on an equalising goal for Brady and a willingness to show for the ball from Byrne were the things to take away from a tension-free night in Dublin 4.

Those B-Specials were Brady, Byrne and Browne. And it's a comfort to McCarthy that the first goal came from a set piece delivered by one of that trio, Brady's corner headed in by Derrick Williams.

It's the ploy which got Ireland out of jail so often in the past, a set play headed home by a defender, and it's probably our most likely route to goal for the meeting with the Danes.

But past experience shows that won't be enough to beat Denmark, which of course Ireland have to do on Monday night.

It was also the only time Brady's set pieces troubled the away side - a free kick on 57 minutes should have hit the target but thundered straight into the All White wall.

One regret of the night was that Brady's experience and status as captain meant he took all of the set pieces. Shamrock Rovers fans (and League of Ireland defenders) know the damage that Byrne can do from a free kick or corner and it's a pity he didn't get that chance.

This was always going to be a hard game for those midfield hopefuls, because of the context of the match and the opposition.

Easy, it could be said, to rip it up against a side playing their first international in over a year, under a new manager, with a side not exactly bursting with names and talent. Up against the Irish in midfield was Joe Bell, who plays for a college side in the USA.

Looking good against a player like that is do-able. But going up against canny operators from the European competitions like Delaney, Eriksen and Schone is another thing.

This was an audition, of sorts, an opportunity for a couple of midfielders to try and show McCarthy that they have more to offer than the ones who have played in the middle of the park in the most recent qualifiers.

They all had their moments. Brady started the game slowly, looking like a player who lacked match sharpness (he has played just 110 minutes of club football all season) yet who grew into the game, finding his legs in the second half to make more of an impact. He needed this, a rare 90 minutes, and will be the better for it.

And Byrne started very strongly. That Irish midfield in Tbilisi and Geneva was, by and large, a pass-free, attack-free zone for far too long. The team did pass last night and that midfield looked more like an attacking unit.

For Monday, it's a given that Glenn Whelan returns to the starting XI, as should be the case. Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick and James McClean have all under-performed in their most recent games, those three do not deserve to have places in the starting XI nailed down. Brady, and Byrne, should be in the manager's plans for Monday.

Turning a plan into reality is now his biggest test.

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