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Strachan's loose talk needs a firm rebuttal

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Gordon Strachan. Photo: PA Wire

Gordon Strachan. Photo: PA Wire

Gordon Strachan. Photo: PA Wire

GORDON Strachan really ought to know better. In an Old Firm context, any exhortation to abuse, pantomime or otherwise, is a very bad idea. Rabble-rousing, pure and simple.

Like it or not, Ireland's clash with Scotland at Celtic Park next week is seen by some as the mother of all Old Firm fixtures, a magnet for the nutters and sly creatures that live on the edge of extremism.

That hasn't gone away and for Strachan to even suggest that it was okay to boo Aiden McGeady or James McCarthy, in a nice way of course, was nothing more than rampant stupidity.

There is no way to deliver sectarian abuse nicely. The context of the songs which will be sung is still too raw and anyone who has witnessed the level of abuse McGeady and McCarthy have endured down through the years knows how irresponsible Strachan was to say what he said.

Lowlife scum

Ask the lads' families how funny it was to watch, listen and then become targets themselves for the kind of lowlife scum who will seize upon Strachan's words as a kind of imprimatur.

They won't just be minded to boo at Celtic Park. They will want to do much more than that and should receive no encouragement at all. Strachan has opened the door.

He's a bit of a clever clogs, Gordon. A man of rapier wit and sharp retorts, he projects the sense that he has a better take on the world than ordinary mortals.

Maybe he does, but on this one he needs a sharp reminder from somebody above him that every word he says for the next week should be carefully judged.

But the SFA already have a beef with the FAI and that is a situation entirely made in Ireland. The ticketing fiasco allowed belligerent headlines between the two associations into the arena, - initiated, it must be said, in Dublin.

For a month or two, the feedback from Abbotstown was that the SFA were not playing ball on tickets even though they had them to spare. But really, was there ever any realistic chance that they would?

In fact, why should they hand an extra few thousand or even a few hundred tickets to a supporters with a world-renowned reputation for providing 12th-man assistance to their heroes in their hour of need?

It was easy for the FAI to claim that they would have offered every support if the positions were reversed and they may even have meant it.

But the ticket allocation from Scotland only became a major issue because of the way it was distributed at the FAI's end and the attempt to shift the blame to Scotland for that made no sense.

As the FAI CEO, John Delaney, admitted, mistakes were made and people who should get the first tickets off the printing press for every game were denied their due.

To make matters worse, we had the unedifying reality of our national association forced into a kind of ticket-tout manoeuvre in reverse; buying corporate tickets and selling them at face value.

It was an attempt to right a wrong and deserves credit for that reason - but it hardly set the right tone. Nor indeed did the SFA's deeply complacent online ticket sale which will mix fans around the ground.

There is a huge onus on everyone involved in this game to do nothing which might inflame what can be a fantastic night.

If anyone believes for a second that the capacity for chaos and violence off the field will not be present, they are sadly mistaken.

There will be people on both sides keen for it to happen.

Much of the potential for controversy centres on McGeady and McCarthy, but Darron Gibson and James McClean will get their share, there's no question about that.

McGeady is clearly on the balls of his feet waiting for this one but McCarthy is a different matter. In fact, more than one well-connected football man has suggested that the Everton midfielder would not be unhappy if he was struck down by another injury at the weekend.

Watch that one very carefully. If there is any reticence from McCarthy Roberto Martinez will insert himself into the equation.

Protect

He will not waste any opportunity to protect what he sees as his asset. Martinez never played international football and seems even less well-disposed towards player release than traditionally unwilling managers.

If there is a bulletin from Goodison on Sunday evening telling us that McCarthy needs a scan, Martin O'Neill must reach for his UEFA rule book and insist that the player reports to Malahide for an assessment.

O'Neill has to take a pair of scissors to the connection he still feels with club management in England, even if in his hearts of hearts he hopes it is temporary.

For a game of this importance, he must have all his options available and it is clear that he likes McCarthy a great deal.

There is the possibility that McCarthy has communicated unease about the Scotland game to O'Neill, consciously or sub-consciously, which would explain the absence of any inclination to insist on adherence to the UEFA rulebook.

It will not be an evening for faint hearts and nothing less than full commitment needed.

No player can have doubts about the shirt he is wearing.


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