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Time to send a message: Georgia tie will show how far Mick can take Irish

 

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FORMATION PUZZLE: The Republic of Ireland’s Enda Stevens (left) Matt Doherty (centre), and Conor Hourihane during training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FORMATION PUZZLE: The Republic of Ireland’s Enda Stevens (left) Matt Doherty (centre), and Conor Hourihane during training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

FORMATION PUZZLE: The Republic of Ireland’s Enda Stevens (left) Matt Doherty (centre), and Conor Hourihane during training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy admitted that he was nervous before the first game of his second spell of Ireland, in Gibraltar, on Saturday night.

Every person heading to Lansdowne Road this evening, bar the 150-strong band of supporters from Georgia, know that feeling of nerves all too well. They have had it in the pit of their stomach any time those white shirts from Georgia come into view and come into battle with an Irish team.

And whether McCarthy can get his team to play well against, and beat, the men from Tbilisi is the biggest and best test he could face.

Win ratio

Ireland's record against Georgia is one of those cases were facts and honesty don't mix. Ireland have never lost to the Georgians and have a win ratio of 89%. Any football team, at any level, would happily accept a run like that.

But Ireland's displays against Georgia have ranged between the average and the dismal.

The winning run for Ireland was finally ended in the last meeting, a 1-1 draw in Tbilisi which came in the same campaign as a narrow, and undeserved, home win.

And if McCarthy is to be a success with Ireland he has to find a way of playing against the likes of Georgia: without fear, without submissiveness, without sloppiness; with courage, with skill and with confidence, all the traits which we have looked for in past battles with Georgia.

Those around McCarthy are trying to make the point that qualification for Euro 2020 is not a given.

Just like the theory that the organisers of the 1994 World Cup would let the Republic play all their games in cities with a large Irish population, the idea is based on a mixture of hope and fantasy.

To get out of this qualifying group, Ireland will have to do better than they have against Georgia, be better than Denmark and try and cope with a Swiss side who are already group favourites.

And tonight is where McCarthy will show what he's made of.

Once he learned on the job in his first campaign as Ireland boss, McCarthy took to the task of going head to head with the big guns. Holland, Croatia, and Yugoslavia were beaten, Portugal and Holland had to settle for draws at home to Ireland.

Heady days, though McCarthy never had the opportunity (or misfortune) to face Georgia, a side who caused problems for Brian Kerr, Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O'Neill.

McCarthy's team selection tonight will tell a lot. He was always loyal in his last time as Ireland boss, picking players like Jason McAteer and Ian Harte when they had club troubles.

He could also be harsh when needed. And he has some calls to make on his team.

The biggest puzzle is what to do with Matt Doherty. Try him again on the right side of midfield, even though that ploy didn't work that well in Gibraltar? Drop Enda Stevens and try Doherty at left back? Drop Doherty, despite his record as a free-scoring Premier League player with assists to beat the band?

And does he give Seán Maguire another chance to show his worth after a fruitless, frustrating 90 minutes in Gibraltar?

McCarthy's team-talk will be one indicator, the manager yesterday speaking of the nerves and butterflies he still experiences. His team selection will also say a lot.

Georgia have bossed Ireland a lot, not always with rewards. For McCarthy and his team, it's time to take back control.


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