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Tuesday 19 November 2019

Doc has to wait his turn

The Republic of Ireland’s Matt Doherty fends off Georgia’s Levan Kharabadze during their Euro 2020 Group D match at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday
The Republic of Ireland’s Matt Doherty fends off Georgia’s Levan Kharabadze during their Euro 2020 Group D match at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday

Mick McCarthy can enjoy the weeks between now and the next bout of international duty, a training camp in May, with the proud boast that he has already had an impact on a team which had looked rudderless.

But while it's all smiles for some with the Republic in as table-toppers in Group D, McCarthy has told Matt Doherty that he just has to bide his time and wait for a chance to get into the side ahead of the current full-backs.

While his bosses in the FAI are... ahem, busy with other matters, a UEFA investigation pending into the tennis ball protest which held up Tuesday's win at home to Georgia. McCarthy has scouting duties to keep him busy.

The squad will meet up again in late May for a training camp which is preparation for the Denmark/Gibraltar double header in June, so McCarthy has time to assess the players he's had at his disposal so far, and the ones who missed out on this trip due to injury (Callum O'Dowda, Alan Browne, James McCarthy).

The other game in the group on Tuesday, the remarkable 3-3 draw between Switzerland and Denmark, had a few pointers: that the Swiss are a decent side (they were 3-0 ahead) who are also brittle (they let three goals in) and that the Danes are resolute (coming from 3-0 down to draw, away, is remarkable).

McCarthy wasn't getting too caught up in that game, he's focused on his own task, and he's happy with his own score card.

"I can only affect what we do, can't I?" he says.

"And, quite clearly myself, TC (Terry Connor), Robbie (Keane), Alan (Kelly), Lids (fitness coach Andy Liddle), we've had an effect on the players, we've got some good performances out of them and two good victories.

"I can't affect Denmark or Switzerland, they're two bloomin' good sides. They're capable of coming here and beating us, that's for sure."

Yes, but are Ireland capable of going there to win? "We're going to try," he retorts.

"It's lovely being top after two games. I have no idea if we can stay there but that's what we're going to try and do."

Of all the issues which Martin O'Neill grappled with in the dying days of his regime, the Matt Doherty one was a constant puzzle.

O'Neill was (quite rightly) criticised for overlooking an in-form Doherty for so long, but once O'Neill did (belatedly) put Doherty into the side, he could quite rightly argue back that the Wolves player did not deliver the level of performance which the pro-Matt campaign suggested.

Doherty filled the role previously occupied by people like Andy Reid, Wes Hoolahan and Stephen Ireland: the less games he played for Ireland, the more important he became in the eyes of his backers.

McCarthy started with Doherty on the right side of midfield in the 1-0 win in Gibraltar but admitted later that the ploy was not a success, and Doherty had to settle for an appearance off the bench late on in Tuesday's win over Georgia.

It seems that Doherty may have to get used to the bench as McCarthy does not see a wide midfield role for him, and neither will he consider using Doherty at left-back.

"Well, if I've got one as good as Enda Stevens then I won't be doing that, that's for sure," he said when asked about getting Doherty, the most in-form Premier League player in the Ireland squad, into his side.

It's just bad timing for Doherty, in McCarthy's eyes, that he has Séamus Coleman ahead of him.

We have been here before with Ireland: right-backs like Stephen Carr and Stephen Kelly had amassed a good deal of Premier League experience before they got close to the Ireland team as they had people like Denis Irwin and Gary Kelly or Steve Finnan ahead of them.

"It's unfortunate for them but it's not unfortunate for me because if one of them is injured I've got another good one," McCarthy says.

"I said when I first got the job, I'll play one of them and I'll talk about the one that doesn't play.

"Then, of course, I played the pair of them and it didn't work. So I'm playing Séamus and I'm afraid it's just tough on the Doc. And if he gets in for any reason then it's his place to keep."

Overall, it it a lot for him to be happy with?

"People are asking me about momentum, maybe we've got a bit of momentum now and we can actually believe we can win games.

"I heard them in the dressing room, 'that's how an Irish team plays, that's how we want to play, we want to get up and press teams and stop them playing' and consequently we end up playing further forward and playing in their half. I think they were terrific."

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