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Saturday 14 December 2019

McCarthy banks on players to winter well for play-offs

March opponents will be similar level says Mick but Parrott future uncertain

LONG WAIT: Mick McCarthy has months to prepare for the Euro 2020 play-offs. Photo: Stephen McCarthyy/Sportsfile
LONG WAIT: Mick McCarthy has months to prepare for the Euro 2020 play-offs. Photo: Stephen McCarthyy/Sportsfile

It's like the old joke about asking for directions from the Kerry farmer and the response is, I know where you want to go but I wouldn't start from here.

We know what Ireland need to do to make it to Euro 2020, win two games in the space of five days next March.

But despite the glow of self-satisfaction which enveloped the team and the staff after Monday's 1-1 draw at home to Denmark, the team's current status is hardly the place to begin a winning run.

The status of Troy Parrott could change between now and March, depending on what happens next at Tottenham following last night's shock dismissal of manager Mauricio Pochettino.

The stats, laid bare, made for grim reading. Georgia, a full 54 places below Ireland in the FIFA world ranking, scored as many goals in the group as Mick McCarthy's side.

No Irish player scored more than one goal in qualification, no Irish player has managed to go on a scoring run in the shirt of the national team, and wins have been hard to come by.

But now that the Swiss and the Danes are out of the equation and Ireland prepare to meet a side of a similar level, McCarthy feels it's a level playing field with teams who are not used to winning.

"They're all in the same place. All these teams in the play-offs, they probably haven't won two games back to back either so we're all in the same place, they're probably doing the same things as us," McCarthy said, speaking before last night's games made Ireland's play-off opponents clear.

Winning back to back games in the space of a few days is something Ireland have shown they can do - they've managed it seven times in the last decade.

They even did it under McCarthy at the start of the group ... but the problem is, one of the wins included in each double success was against a minnow, or a least one of the weaker nations: Gibraltar/Georgia (2019), Moldova/Wales (2017), Georgia/Moldova (2016), Gibraltar/Georgia (2015), Georgia/Faroes (2013), Andorra/Armenia (2010 and 2011).

In fact the last time Ireland overcame two strong(ish) opponents in a double header was 12 years ago, the Croke Park wins over Wales and Slovakia.

Now they need to do it twice against teams of that level.

Age Hareide, glad to have managed Denmark against Ireland for the last time, feels they can succeed.

"Ireland have been steady through the campaign and they did well against Switzerland and played well against us," Denmark's manager said.

"So I think that they have a good chance of going through, I said that to Mick as well."

Time could be important for McCarthy here as he plans for March: filling the days between now and the play-off (and finding that difficult), or the possible boon of his players getting more game time between now and then.

It's an unusual place for McCarthy to be, waiting so long for the next bout of games.

For his first entry into the play-offs as Ireland manager, he barely had any time at all, a gap of just 18 days between the final group match in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers (a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania) and the first leg of an ill-fated play-off against Belgium.

Next time around the play-off against Turkey came four weeks after the 1-1 draw in Macedonia which denied his side a place in the finals, a similar lead-in time for the 2002 World Cup play-off.

Former international Stephen Ward, on punditry duty on Monday night, reckoned that McCarthy would have preferred to play the play-off as soon as possible, to keep up the momentum shown in that game and to not let disappointment fester.

McCarthy says he's not bothered. "I don't look for them. I seriously don't look for them," he said when asked if there were negatives in the long wait between now and March.

"Everyone else puts negatives in my way. That's what we have to do, get out and do it as the best you can and don't whinge that it's in March, don't look for that at all.

"The disappointment of drawing the game and not qualifying for the Euros will be a lot less in March.

"They will be forgetting all of what has happened here and when they come back in March they will be fresh for two games.

"March comes around, let's hope David McGoldrick is fit. Let's hope Troy gets into the (Spurs) team and gets some football," he added, Parrott facing into uncertainty when he return to a Pochettino-less club today, having completed his bout of international duty with the U21s last night.

Hope in McCarthy's heart for four and a half months. Winter, truly, is coming.

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