Saturday 25 February 2017

McCarthy in need of patience – not vilification

Criticism was as predictable as it was pointless – and Grealish may be taking notes

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Ireland's James McCarthy in action against Jakub Wawrzyniak of Poland during their Euro 2016 qualifier at the Aviva. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's James McCarthy in action against Jakub Wawrzyniak of Poland during their Euro 2016 qualifier at the Aviva. Photo: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

When James McCarthy made a promise to his late grandfather, I suspect he imagined the toughest part of honouring it would be past now.

He was, after all, still a kid as the consequences of that covenant found earliest expression. His parents, Willie and Marie, recount watching their son run a gauntlet of purple, screaming faces in stark outposts like Stirling and Partick as his rumoured allegiance to Ireland first leaked to a vexed Scottish public. James had to grow up fast in the resultant maelstrom.

He was playing for Hamilton in the hard, adult world of semi-professional football at 15, a luminous talent supposedly signposted for greatness.

But his upbringing in the Castlemilk suburb of Glasgow had always borne a distinctly Irish feel and the fervent wish of Paddy Coyle, a son of Gweedore who had emigrated to Scotland in the early 1930s, was that James played his international football in green.

Seems

It seems a small eternity back now that we fixated on McCarthy’s Irishness being formalised. Having represented his grandfather’s country at every level, nothing was actually binding until he played competitively at senior. And it all took on the faint air of a soap opera when he failed to return Giovanni Trapattoni’s calls after withdrawing from a 2011 Nations Cup game in Dublin. One month later, however, the suspense was over, McCarthy playing in a Euro Qualifier against Macedonia.

Trouble is, that was four years ago last week and it is impossible to avoid the suspicion that James now wonders if that promise to his grandad was entirely wise.  The critical fall-out to Sunday’s draw with Poland seems to have been framed entirely by a view that McCarthy remains a disappointment in the Irish shirt, someone playing almost as if he hoped the critics didn’t notice him.

The usual suspect branded him “a terrible flop”, despite the fact that McCarthy won two Man of the Match awards during the failed campaign to qualify for last year’s World Cup and was acknowledged by more observant critics as being one of Ireland’s better players as they chased last weekend’s game.

But, it’s true, he was uninspired until that late, frenzied charge, the midfield battle so one-sided, Ireland almost needing to send up flares. It seems natural to expect more of a player reputedly coveted by Champions League clubs.

If Glenn Whelan is the kind of man you’d like next to you in a lifeboat, we want McCarthy to be the one who makes us dream. And James just hasn’t been doing that.

So he encounters scepticism in some quarters, a predictable claque of abuse in others. The consensus seems to hold that he, maybe, lacks a leader’s personality, that for all his technical and physical virtues, he is just a little shy.

Martin O’Neill’s challenge now is to draw the kind of qualities from McCarthy, the physical edge, the subversive forward runs, the tingling anger even, that Roberto Martinez has managed at Everton.  But then, Martinez has been working with McCarthy since he was 18.  O’Neill has had him for two competitive games.

Patience and encouragement are clearly needed here, not ridicule.  You have to suspect that too much of the criticism coming McCarthy’s way this week has been over-arched and a little attention-seeking.

Players returning home from international duty as if crawling out of a train wreck isn’t a recipe for long-term success. It is important to remember that.

Ever wonder is Jack Grealish taking notes?

 

Sterling tests the patience of 'Pool fans

Well, we may not be much wiser about where Raheem Sterling will play his football next season, but we can safely deduce that his agent is no Rommel of the PR world.

Just as Liverpool’s hopes of a Champions League place seem to be unravelling terminally, Sterling’s BBC interview came across as hopelessly disingenuous and craven. “It’s never been about money,” he said when, frankly, the dogs in the street know that that is the one and only thing it is about.

And Aidy Ward’s next trick? Perhaps he might look into securing some personal sponsorship for his client from The Sun. Sterling is a hugely promising player who could, in time, become a great one.  But, for now, his finishing is poor and, on occasion, he gets brushed off the ball by defenders as if his mind has drifted elsewhere.

Yet the Liverpool supporters love him because they see in him a young player with game-changing ability, one who can – on the good days – offer something exhilarating.

He still has two and a half years left to run on his Anfield contract and, given Brendan Rodgers’s recent confirmation that – on Sterling’s request – there would be no further discussions on an new deal  until the season’s end, how on earth was this week’s interview going to be helpful?

Stop digging kid.

 

Why draw attention to yobs and their songs?

Question: How do you appeal to the conscience of someone harbouring a fetish for the very sound of you making that appeal? 

All of this public urging for England fans to desist from singing provocative songs at the summer friendly against Ireland in Dublin is surely destined to lead only to one thing ...the sound of “No Surrender to the IRA” rolling around Lansdowne Road on the evening of June 7.

I doubt Roy Hodgson preaching against bad manners carries much traction for the few sociopaths no doubt already planning some “fun” that weekend.

An obvious fear is that the occasion degenerates into something akin to the abandoned '95 fixture.

To that end, the police presence is sure to be intensive and, presumably, intelligence on probable trouble-makers will – unlike 20 years ago – be shared between Gardai and their English counterparts.

But I imagine that the singing of inappropriate songs is well down the list of their real security concerns (have you been to a game in England lately?) given the very probability of it happening.

So, assuming that those inclined to do so have the IQ of tree trunks, why bother even drawing attention to them?

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