Friday 17 January 2020

McCarthy's old reliables

Irish boss needs familiar faces to deliver

FITS THE BILL: Mick McCarthy would love Robbie Brady (r) to be fully fit for the crunch tie against the Danes. Pic: Reuters
FITS THE BILL: Mick McCarthy would love Robbie Brady (r) to be fully fit for the crunch tie against the Danes. Pic: Reuters

The mention of a former Ireland team-mate makes Mick McCarthy smile.

He's just been reminded that the right-wing slot with the current Ireland outfit is a problem position, one that a succession of players have struggled to fill this year, unlike in Jack Charlton's time when Ray Houghton could essentially played there every time he was fit.

"No, we don't have a Ray Houghton-type figure," he admits with a rueful grin.

Now 57, Houghton is obviously not in McCarthy's thoughts for next month's must-win Euro qualifier at home to Denmark.

But the Ireland manager will have to reach into the past and coax a big performance from some familiar faces, the senior players who have, for a variety of reasons, been away from the Ireland scene of late.

NAMING NAMES: Mick McCarthy at the squad announcement in the SSE Airtricity headquarters in Leopardstown. Pic: Sportsfile
NAMING NAMES: Mick McCarthy at the squad announcement in the SSE Airtricity headquarters in Leopardstown. Pic: Sportsfile

Keiren Westwood, Robbie Brady, James McCarthy and Shane Long were all named in the 39-man provisional squad by McCarthy for the double-header at home to New Zealand and Denmark, having been omitted from the squad for the disappointing trips to Georgia and Switzerland.

McCarthy was not satisfied with the match-fitness levels of most of them.

And yet they could all, potentially, come into contention: Westwood if Darren Randolph cannot prove his fitness in time; James McCarthy and Brady because Ireland's attacking midfield has been an insipid, pass-free zone for the last couple of games; and Long because of the lack of goals from the strikers in the Ireland side.

Add to the mix the need for James McClean to cast aside his struggles with club and country and it could be those old servants who Ireland may need to rely on against the Danes.

Teenagers Nathan Collins, Aaron Connolly, Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott were named in the 39-strong squad.

There is a chance that Parrott (17) could get game time in the friendly against New Zealand while Connolly (19) is also very much in the frame to play against Denmark.

But McCarthy admits now is not the time for taking risks. "If you can have a hugely experienced team that is playing well, to play in this game, then that would be my choice," he says.

"If I have someone like Aaron Connolly, who is ripping it up, or if Troy got in the first team at Spurs and suddenly started scoring, then I would have to consider them as well. But it's not for sticking three or four debutants in this game, that's for sure."

So youth is not the issue, it's the form of his veterans and he has issues to deal with, one of them the form of McClean, whose sub-par displays in the last two internationals have forced questions about whether he should lose his place.

It's a long time since McClean was left out out of an Ireland XI but Stoke City see him as surplus to requirements, even in a relegation battle, just one appearance (and that as a sub) for McClean in their last four games.

"He's not playing for Stoke, not at the minute," McCarthy admits. "In terms of his performances, I'm not going to say that he was, certainly in the last game, better or worse than anyone else in that game, and I know what I get out of James.

"He has been a bit in and out, but mind you Stoke have as well with their results and what's gone on there it's not easy playing in there."

McClean was the man who conjured up those vital goals in Cardiff and Vienna and that track record makes him a definite starter, in McCarthy's eyes, in a game where the Danes must be beaten.

But he may also need to look around his squad and see if the likes of Robbie Brady, Shane Long and James McCarthy can deliver what's been missing.

"I haven't drawn a line through him at all. It would be remiss of me to do it," McCarthy says of Long, frustrated that his assistant, Terry Connor, went to Molinuex two weeks ago with the hope of seeing Long play for Southampton against Wolves, only for the striker to be kept on the bench.


"He (Long) said he thought he'd be playing and he wasn't. He's just not getting any game time. Maybe he will after the last result," McCarthy added, referring to Southampton's 9-0 thrashing last week.

Brady started in midfield in two of the first three qualifiers under McCarthy and he admits that an in-form Brady is missed. "I think if Robbie Brady was fully fit, he fits the bill there doing that," he says of that troublesome right-midfield slot once owned by Houghton

"But he's not. He's getting there. I'd love him to be fit,. He's a left-footer but he does it really well, he can use both feet. Even in his last cameo appearance, he still got in at the far post and scored his goal. We just need him fit. Unfortunately, he's not been that way."

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