Tuesday 27 September 2016

Ireland fans still waiting for James McCarthy to deliver on potential

Published 04/09/2015 | 22:49

Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy
Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy

After waiting for more than five years, it is not unreasonable to ask when James McCarthy will deliver his first exhilarating performance in an Ireland shirt.

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Those of us who were present for McCarthy’s much discussed Ireland debut in a friendly against Brazil at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in February 2010 bought into the theory that we had been present at a hugely significant moment in the modern history of our national team.

Stolen goods he may have been from our friends and foes in Scotland, but McCarthy was the player we all hoped could add a touch of dynamism and spark to an Irish midfield that had been lacking those qualities since Roy Keane’s days as the green general-in-chief.

Here was a kid who appeared to have it all. Pace, energy, athleticism and a reputation that ensured some of the top clubs in the Premier League were striving to secure his signature, it seemed as if the FAI had pulled off a stunning heist when they lured McCarthy into their lair from the clutches of soccer chiefs in his motherland.

4 September 2015; Robbie Keane, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
4 September 2015; Robbie Keane, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
4 September 2015; Robbie Keane, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
4 September 2015; Robbie Keane, left, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal with team-mate's Jonathan Walters and Jeff Hendrick, right. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Jonathan Walters has a goal disallowed, for offside, in the first half.
Jonathan Walters in action against Erin Barnett of Gibraltar.
Republic of Ireland supporters before the game in Faro, Portugal.
4 September 2015; Wes Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, in action against Lee Casciaro, Gibraltar. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
4 September 2015; The Republic of Ireland team, back row, from left to right, James McCarthy, Jonathan Walters, John O'Shea, Cyrus Christie, Glenn Whelan and Ciaran Clark. Front row, from left to right, Wes Hoolahan, Robbie Brady, Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Jeff Hendrick. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
4 September 2015; Republic of Ireland supporters, from left, Owen Daly, Mark Doyle and Karl Harte, all from Cork City, before the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland. Est?dio Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Yet as McCarthy trotted off to moderate applause from the travelling Irish contingent some 70 minutes into his latest listless display against the amateurs of Gibraltar in Friday night’s Euro 2016 qualifier, the mysterious script that has been his Ireland career had another unwelcome chapter.

If McCarthy cannot produce the driving runs into the box we see from him in Everton blue against the policemen, admin clerks and firemen who do their best to represent a pretty pointless Gibraltar team, when exactly is he going to deliver in the green shirt that has never entirely appeared to fit him?

Deployed at the base of the midfield alongside Glenn Whelan, this was a glorious opportunity for McCarthy to emerge from his shell and confirm he can be an Irish hero in the final three games of the Euro 2016 qualifying push, which had been sparked back into life on a night when Scotland’s defeat in Georgia opened a door for renewed Irish dreams.

Instead, we were served up another flat McCarthy display that lacked any sense of urgency, any sense that pulling on a green shirt and representing his country of choice means a whole lot to him.

My handful of meetings with McCarthy have confirmed that this polite young man is somewhat shy in his demeanour, maybe even lacking in confidence, and those qualities were in evidence again as the Everton midfielder opted to take a back seat against Gibraltar instead of stepping into the spotlight.

Criticism of McCarthy from Eamon Dunphy and so many Irish observers is not inspired by any sense of malice, of course not.

We all want this 24-year-old Premier League star to shine on the international stage and maybe the lofty expectations we all have for him is part of the reason why limp displays of the ilk he offered up against Gibraltar are so frustrating.

A real player is waiting to burst out of McCarthy and you wonder whether once breakthrough performance on the international stage could establish this enigma as more than an nearly man for Ireland.

The trouble is, we have been waiting for far too long for McCarthy to prove he is up to the task of grasping the role as Ireland’s midfield king pin. Time to deliver James….and soon.

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