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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Mick's must-win brief puts him in a no-win situation

Mick McCarthy’s time in charge is running out. Photo: Sportsfile
Mick McCarthy’s time in charge is running out. Photo: Sportsfile

It was the final act of what's turned out to be an encouraging week for the Irish teams at both senior and U-21 level.

But Mick McCarthy still ended up leaving the Aviva Stadium press conference on Tuesday on a slightly tetchy note having answered with a firm 'no' when asked - again - if there was any chance of his handover to Stephen Kenny being 'kicked further down the road' now that both sides were doing reasonably well.

This followed on from queries about the thrilling win for Kenny's charges in Sweden and the prospect of senior involvement for their leading lights, most notably goal-scoring hero Troy Parrott.

The questions continued in a huddle away from the stage, and the tone of exchanges were a reminder of how the succession plan that was created at short notice by John Delaney and the FAI hierarchy has left McCarthy in an uncomfortable position.

If anything, the evolution of Kenny's side has added to the awkwardness because they have become such a talking point around the senior gatherings. Even though the old guard aren't doing much wrong.

McCarthy's unbeaten record with the senior team will make it harder for him to face up to the fact that the clock is ticking on his second stint.

He pointedly said that he did the U-21 boss a favour by leaving Parrott and Aaron Connolly with them for their competitive fixture in Kalmar rather than bringing them in for a meaningless joust with the Bulgarians. He noted wryly enough that Kenny had left Parrott on the bench but it all worked out in the end.

Any such comments are left open to interpretation because of the curious nature of the agreement.

McCarthy does keep talking about how Kenny has the 'best gig of all' because he is building his own side in the background. And the more he speaks in those terms, the more that the tone and demeanour of his words will be analysed.

The renewed purpose at U-21 level and the exceptional level of the display in Sweden, with Ireland dominant in terms of chances created and possession, has only served to increase the enthusiasm level about the next regime.

Kenny has earned this opportunity, and should be afforded the kind of time which isn't available to McCarthy in his job description.

Robbie Keane's position is intriguing, given his confirmation that his contract extends into the 2022 campaign. Kenny is believed to be working off a firm understanding that he will be able to bring in his own backroom staff.

It would already appear he's struck up an effective partnership with Keith Andrews and Jim Crawford. Keane's views on Kenny are unclear.

McCarthy was unappreciated the first time around and it is harsh that he's now cast as a character keeping the seat warm for the next big thing, while an extremely promising generation develops.

The glass half-full equation on his standing is that reaching Euro 2020 would allow him to leave on a massive high in contrast with late 2002, but it's inevitable that if Ireland achieve that goal, repetitive queries regarding the broader picture might just sour the mood.

McCarthy's must-win brief has left him in a no-win situation. Expect more discomfort as this one plays itself out.

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