Thursday 17 January 2019

'Mick slapped me across the head twice'

Mark Kennedy playing for Republic of Ireland in 1997
Mark Kennedy playing for Republic of Ireland in 1997

Tears, red cards and slaps.

That was on the menu the last time that Ireland faced up to Iceland in an international, twenty years ago.

The broken leg suffered by Seamus Coleman last week has cast a shadow over tonight's friendly.

No points at stake and no one, in either camp, wants to spend as much time in hospital as Coleman has done since his season was ended, even his career threatened, by Neil Taylor last weekend.

There may still be tussles, though. Iceland captain Aron Gunnarson mentioned the battling qualities of his one-time team-mate at Coventry City, Ireland right back Cyrus Christie.

"I played with (Richard) Keogh and Christie," says Gunnarson, now at Cardiff City.

"Christie is a physical, strong player, he does his job and he has been in and out for Derby, he has had a few injuries as well but he will add a real fighting spirit to the squad."

We had more than a tad of fighting the last time the two teams met, in a World Cup qualifier in Reykjavik.

The record shows it was an away win, Ireland beating Iceland 4-2, but there were many sub plots, as an under-pressure Republic side had to come from 2-1 down to win while Mark Kennedy was one of two players sent off - much to the disgust of his manager.

"The sending off was stupid and Mick McCarthy was absolutely furious with me," Kennedy told Vincent Hogan in the Irish Independent a while later.

"I was furious with myself, I couldn't help crying afterwards. When Mick came into the dressing room, he slapped me across the head twice. He gave out to me and I accepted everything he said."

That game came at a tense time in McCarthy's first campaign and there is no such tension for tonight's tie.

There are issues at stake and for some, tonight is the chance to get their first caps: Andy Boyle, Daryl Horgan, Conor Hourihane and John Egan all hoping for debuts.

For a batch of other players, it's a chance to emerge from the fringes, with Stephen Gleeson anxious to end his 10-year wait for another cap, while Eunan O'Kane, Callum O'Dowda and Jonny Hayes, frequent members of the squad who get infrequent chances to play, are desperate for chances to play.

Keogh and Christie are almost certain to start, teeing up a reunion with old pal Gunnarson, but it's really the chance for the likes of Hourihane and Horgan to impress which makes tonight's game worth watching, hopefully with the red card staying in the ref's pocket.

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