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Friday 15 November 2019

Mick happy with state of nation as understudies prove steady

Mick McCarthy
Mick McCarthy

The craggy face of Mick McCarthy held a smile at the conclusion of international duty in Dublin 4 last night.

Not from the quality of fare that he and the crowd had witnessed or at times endured over the previous 90 minutes, in a 3-1 win at home to Bulgaria.

It wasn't really what he saw on the field that pleased McCarthy so, more the state of the nation as he heads off to think for 31 days before international duty resumes again, with a very testing double-header away to Georgia and Switzerland.

These are troubling times for international managers. Robert Prosinecki quit as manager of Bosnia last week, leaving before he was pushed after a poor run.

Poland will probably still qualify for Euro 2020 but their boss is under fire after a return of one point and no goals from the last two games. Scotland and Steve Clarke are a laughing stock after this week's latest humiliation, at home to Belgium.

Over in Denmark, the man who lorded it over Martin O'Neill, Age Hareide, now seems to have feet of clay, to go with the dodgy knee which forced him to miss their last two games, the Danish side derided at home after their 0-0 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

So McCarthy can rest easy for a month. His unbeaten record remains in place, last night he gave game time to some of his fringe players, and even had time to hand out debuts (for the first time in his second spell in the dugout) to Josh Cullen, Mark Travers, Kieran O'Hara, James Collins and Jack Byrne, a particularly warm reception from the Dublin crowd as Byrne became the 64th player from Shamrock Rovers to win a senior cap, and it was a subsequent treat for the crowd to see Byrne claim an assist for the second goal.

McCarthy will take some solace from elements of this game: debut goals from Alan Browne and James Collins, a classy effort from sub Byrne, no slip-ups from Travers in goal, a solid showing in central defence from John Egan (even though he was forced into the concession of a penalty in the box when he was let down by Cyrus Christie), some nice touches in midfield from Callum O'Dowda and Cullen, and hints that Ronan Curtis could have more to offer.

The Keogh/Duffy axis at the heart of the Irish defence will only be broken up by necessity, in the case of injury and suspension, but the pair have played every minute of every game in the qualifiers for McCarthy, they are his first line of defence, and will not be dropped, but Egan is now next in line. His case backed up by weekly exposure to Premier League football.

Egan had little to do last night before he was forced to concede a penalty, but he'll be happy with his night's work.

Conor Hourihane is now a viable option at left back for the next qualifier, away to Georgia in a month's time. Taking Hourihane out of midfield and plonking him into the back four deprives midfield of some creativity, but Hourihane can still offer something from set-pieces, and points in games like Georgia away are often won by a set play from Ireland.

So it was small crumbs to tuck away in his pocket in case of need for McCarthy instead of a stand-out display from a fringe player. A good night for the Ireland boss, but this was a case of the stand-ins trying out for a role, knowing the big names will be back next month.

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